Wine Education

The Anatomy of a Wine Label

Did you know that the front and back labels on a bottle of wine actually give you valuable information about the bottle’s contents?  Read ahead!

Who Made the Wine?
It's not as easy a question as you might think, but there is useful information available if you can speak back label language.

"Bottled by XYZ" identifies a negociant wine -- XYZ purchased the wine and had it bottled.
"Cellared by XYZ" means he or she bought the wine, aged it in tanks or barrels in his facility and bottled it. 

"Produced (or vinted) by" means XYZ made the wine
from grapes he either owns, purchased, or both. 

"Estate grown" says 85% of the grapes came from vineyards that XYZ owns or controls (by contract with the grower).  A single vineyard designation means 95% of the grapes came
from that vineyard.

If the label designates a varietal name, the contents must be made with at least 75% of that grape (in Napa Valley, 85%).  Blends, which are sold with proprietary names such as Rubicon (a red blend, Niebaum-Coppola)  and VMR (a white Rhone blend, Marilyn Remark Winery) remove the varietal requirement and allow the winemaker to go for it.

Appellation refers to the origin of the wine.  American Viticultural Areas (AVA's) are awarded by the government to recognize the unique soil, water, weather, and topography of a particular wine grape-growing region (e.g. Paso Robles, Sonoma Valley, etc.)  AVA's are associated with particular varietals that grow especially well there (e.g. Napa Cabs, Dry Creek Zinfandels.)

Vintage tells you when the grapes were harvested.  The year on the label indicates that at least 95% of the grapes used in the wine were harvested that year.

Alcohol Content
The alcohol-by-volume ratio of the wine.  White wines, other than Chardonnay, tend to be lower in alcohol content than red wines, especially red wines grown in warm regions.