Tag Archives: understanding american wine labels

How to Read a Wine Label


Dontcha just love this label?!

So, what do all those designations on it really mean? For today, let’s just take a look at American wine labels. Fortunately, the regulations behind other new-world labels are extremely similar – how convenient! The old world is quite another matter.

The Brand
Of course, this is self explanatory, although don’t forget the “virtual” producer, which doesn’t have a brick and mortar winery. There are lots of them and these producers are usually so small that they can’t justify building an actual winery. They use a “custom crush” facility like Napa Wine Company (really fun tasting room, BTW!) or use another winery’s equipment. 

Also, restaurants and some stores may feature their own brand. In that case, most likely, they’ve contracted with a winery to produce their wine. I assume that’s true for most celebrity brands, too.  

The Appellation of Origin
When you see a place name such as Oregon or Alexander Valley it refers to where the grapes were grown, not the location of the winery. The government calls this the appellation of origin. To me, this is a make or break issue – some growing regions are a heck of a lot better than others.

If it’s a very general appellation, like the name of a state, this is just a geographical declaration and the minimum requirement is 75%. Individual states my upgrade, but not downgrade, the requirement. For instance, if the label says California, 100% of the grapes must be California grown.
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Wine Appellations, AVAs, Places of Origin…

Market Watch had an interesting article indicating that Americans care very much where our wine is grown. I think that’s great news – we’re maturing as a wine-drinking country! And, I agree. When I’m shopping, especially for value wine, the appellation is one of the most important criteria in making my selection. You could pick out a variety you like from a ca-ca location and end with: ca-ca!

What’s not such great news is that the article went on to say: “Perhaps most troubling was the fact that despite broad interest in wine location from all sectors of the U.S. wine-consuming populace, when presented with two labels to compare side by side, most consumers were unable to determine the correct origin of the wine.”

Hmm… How can I help? Let me just cover the American laws quickly – most new-world wines have similar regulations. Happy to look at labels from around the world – let me know which ones you want.

So, below there’s a clean, easy to read label from a winery a few blocks from my house (they’re not a client). You see that there’s actually very little information on the front label, but the important stuff is there – the variety, place of origin and the brand.  Continue reading

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How to Read The (American) Wine Label

I love browsing Snooth and quite often find myself sucked into their forum – before you know it, an hour has gone by! 

Anyway, here’s a question that wasn’t from y’all.  A new enthusiast posed this question in the forum. But, I figure if she wonders, probably lots of others do, too, so think of this as “Reading the Wine Label 101”. 

Question: I just purchased a bottle of Campus Oaks – Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi 2007. Now what that all means…not sure yet; but that is something that I would like to learn. What certain wines mean and what the 2007 stands for? The year that it was bottled, picked off the vine or what!?!?

Now, reading an American wine label is a cake walk compared to most any European label, so let’s start with that. And, fortunately, most new-world wine labels have similar requirements behind them. Grab yourself a bottle and take a look. I just took a bottle of Ideology Cabernet Sauvignon from my “cellar”.

The brand name is usually the biggest thing on the label 😉

Vintage date Next it says 2006: The vintage date is the harvest date. It’s kind of like putting up jam. The weather during the growing season has a huge impact on wine flavors (think of the difference between unripe fruit, perfectly ripe fruit and over-ripe fruit. It’s a simplification, but you get the idea). Continue reading


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