Reading a Wine Label

There is only one real question: “Is the wine any good?” The answer, unfortunately, is often submerged beneath enthusiastic marketing waffle. Don’t be put off! You can always trust the wine label to provide you with facts about the wine. Don’t forget to turn the bottle to review the second (back) label, you may be surprised at the richness of the information provided.

Grape Variety

The grape variety is the best indication of taste. Look for good information on grape varieties at our Wine Glossary


Where the wine comes from is the next best indicator. As European wines don’t always state grape varieties, some information about regions will help. You can find out more about wine regions at World’s Wine Regions


Terroir is a fancy description for soil, climate and exposure. These factors can influence the grape style and flavour and ultimately the flavour of the wine.


The word “vintage” is often bandied around to denote something special. It simply refers to wine from a particular year, and not all “vintage” years are good!


A superficial acquaintance with a few basics is all you need—classification codes aren’t the most helpful bits of label information! If you want to guarantee quality, you’re better off choosing a reliable producer name.  The USA classification system, AVA, guarantees geographical origins of wine, not quality.  New World countries follow similar rules while Europe tends to classify by region.  The following pared-down list offers a guideline:

Finally, a few confusing wine phrases and words to dismiss:

  • Supérieur ” does not necessarily refer to superior wine. The French term “supérieur” and its Italian equivalent merely indicate that the wine has a slightly higher alcohol content.
  • Grand vin” on Bordeaux labels means that it is the main wine of the winery, rather than a great wine.
  • The word “Reserve” is often misleading. In some countries it refers to wines that have been matured in oak for longer than standard wines. In other countries it means nothing.
  • Ignore generalisations such as “classic“, “limited release“, “special.” They are simply marketing phrases to make the wine seem more unique.
Special Quality Wine Quality Wine Regional Wine Basic Wine
Germany QmP QbA or VDQS Landwein Tafelwein
France None Specific AC/AOC Vin de pays Vin de table
Italy DOCG DOC IGT Vino da tavola
Spain DOC DO Vino de Tierra or Vino comarcal Vino de mesa
Portugal None Specific DOC or IPR Vinho regional Vinho de mesa

The fundamental concept of enjoying wine for the sake of the enjoyment.
Wine Types
Armed with these general guidelines, you can quickly move on to debunking . . .
Label Jargon
Learn how to extract relevant information from a wine label.
Grape Varieties
The simplest way to guess how a wine will taste is to know more about the grape variety or varieties of the wine.
Ordering Wine
Learn how to negotiate confusing restaurant wine lists with confidence.
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