Do wine labels confuse you? For the majority of wine novices labels can be a bit confusing, but armed with a bit of knowledge, shopping for wine becomes much more enjoyable! Rule #1; know your bottle’s purpose! Are you serving it with dinner, having a casual glass with friends, or, is it a gift? This is a very important step, as you don’t want your wine clashing with dinner!

Different countries have different standards for labeling their wines. Even more confusing is that in the U.S., different states have adopted their own supplemental labeling laws. Yes, this can become very befuddling! This month our topic of wine labels will focus solely on California as they have some of the strictest label requirements of the wine world!

All labels will have the brand name. If a brand is not listed on the label, then the name of the bottler is listed as the brand. Wine labels tell us a great deal about a wine! First and foremost they tell us what type of wine you are purchasing. The wine type is required. This may be identified by varietal (U.S. and a few other countries, or by region (typically seen in European wines).

The wine’s appellation of origin is also mandatory. Appellations of origin are generally counties or states where the grapes originated. In order to be considered an appellation of origin, at least 75% of the grape must have originated from that area. For AVA (American Viticultural Area) at least 85% of the grapes must have originated from the named area. In addition, 100% of the grapes must have been grown in California to be allowed to use an appellation of origin or a geographical subdivision from the state.

Special designations such as Private Reserve, Special Selection or Estate Bottled can often be found on the label. These descriptors are used to indicate qualities that set this particular bottle apart from the rest.

The vintage designates the year in which the grapes were harvested. It is not mandatory that the vintage be listed on the label as it very common for the bottler to mix their vintages. If more than 15% of the wine is from another vintage then it is not allowed to be labeled with that designation.

We’ve only just skimmed this topic. There’s a lot to know about reading a label and selecting a wine!