How to Read Wine Labels and What Do They Mean

Understanding Wine Labels

Welcome to wine for beginners! When I’m out shopping in the grocery store for wines, I’m always overwhelmed by the labels. Sometimes the words on the label are in a foreign language, and even if in English, can still be pretty confusing. The terms on wine labels are there to describe the wine, where it came from, when the grapes were grown, the types of grapes used, etc. I find myself simply picking a wine based on how pretty the wine label looks. So  I have put together a small list of definitions that will make reading wine labels a bit easier. I have also included links to other web pages that will also help you out with understanding wine labels.

Photo Provided Wine Folly

Wine Label Content Definitions

Producer - This identifer can refer to the Winery name or brand. Sometimes it contains a reference to the variety.

VintageThe year the grapes were picked to make the wine

Region - The location of the grapes.

Varietal - A varietal wine is made primarily from a single grape variety. Examples include Merlot or Chardonnay. In the U.S., wines are typically named according to varietal as opposed to Europe, where wines are usually named after the production region (appellation).

Blend A wine made from more than one grape variety

AppellationThe area or region where the grapes were grown 

Wine Label Diagram Provided by Napa Valley Vintners
Non-VintageA wine that is produced from a blend of grapes picked in two or more years. Often marked on wine labels as NV.

AOC / DOC: Appellation terminology in multiple languages that indicates a higher or special quality wine

While perusing wine facts, I came across this instructional web page for reading wine labels that I found really helpful.

As an aside, there are tons of terms used to describe the taste of wine. If you are interested in wine tasting, I found this great list of wine terms which includes descriptors for the many flavors in wine.

Now that we can understand what we are looking at a bit better, let’s delve into our study of the major types of wine. We will kick off the series with a look at red wines.  I am planning to spend as much time on the subject as it takes to understand it, and I’m sure that for the purpose of research, I will have to try a few bottles myself. Research doesn’t always have to be boring! See you next time…

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Louise Bryant

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