How to read a wine label

Reading and understanding wine labels can create problems. New world wine labels tend to be much easier to read, with all the information plainly spelt out, usually in English. Most people just want to know what the grape variety is and how much the bottle costs. Labels in the old world work in a different way. They focus on the wine’s place of origin, so if you’ve never heard about the region or vineyard, the contents of the bottle will be a mystery.

In Europe, there are strict controls governing the borders of each wine region and the grapes that can be grown there. So, if you pick up a bottle of red Burgundy, it will be made from Pinot Noir and, somewhat confusingly, sometimes Gamay. Unless your familiar with each region and what grapes are allowed to be used there, knowing what sort of wine you’re buying can be complicated. Sometimes, vineyards can blend the grapes that are permitted varieties in their region, so only the winemaker and not even the experts don’t know what grapes have gone in to the wine. We can all take solace from that!

Some new world wine makers have followed the trend of the old world, with not specifying variety but just the vineyard. These wineries tend to be well established, with such high reputations, that they can afford to do so. The old world has gone the other way, and has started to display grape varieties in an effort to make their product more consumer-friendly.

If the grape variety is not displayed on the label, the best way to figure out what’s in the bottle is to know what varieties are allowed in each area. Over time you should learn which grapes are allowed in each region, but visit the individual producers’ web site to be absolutely certain.

Below is a guide to reading labels. Although there is no easy trick to understand each individual label, your understanding will develop over time as regions and appellations become more familiar.

A guide to old world and new world labels (picture of a label explaining what everything is) eg;