Tag Archives: wine label definitions

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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Did the Winery Actually Make the Wine?

Question from Scott: I just read your post on $5 vs. $50 wine. I’m appalled that a winery can buy someone else’s wine and put their label on it. Does the label tell me if the winery made its own wine or not?

Reply: One question leads to another! Thanks for writing! There are some key phrases to look for in the “fine print”.

Words that indicate authenticity:

  • Estate Bottled: The Estate Bottles designation requires that the winery crushed, fermented, finished and aged 100% of the wine on winery premises. Contrary to popular perception, it doesn’t require that the winery use only its own grapes. It’s rather vague in saying the vineyard must be controlled” by the winery, which can simpley mean the winery hasa 3-year contract with a grower and some input on the farming.
  • Produced or Made By: The winery fermented at least 75% of the wine on winery premises, but they may have finished, aged and bottled it off-site. In fairness, lots of wineries have separate aging and bottling facilities so that the land around the winery is put to its optimal use: grape growing. It matters a great deal where the grapes grow, but it doesn’t matter where the warehouse is. These designations don’t tell you anything about the grape source.

Words that make my antenna go up: Continue reading

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