Know Your Wine Labels

by Lyka Caparas

Shopping for wine? But can’t seem to understand the wines available on the shelves?

Let’s shortlist the hundreds of labels you see on the display by knowing your preference.

Take a simpler approach as you glide through the isle. Here are simple ways to make a wise wine purchase:

  1. In terms of taste, would you like a fruit forward style? Or simply a refreshing white? Do you prefer a sweet tasting wine or maybe you’d rather forget about the sweetness and prefer something dry.
  2. If you are hosting the wine dinner, consider the group’s preference. It would be a safe bet to choose the preference of the majority – find cues of what your friends or family would look for. Go for an easy-to-drink, less tannic, light wine for the rare drinkers. If your group are serious wine drinkers, you may want to take on a complex blend of red wine.

Interesting to note: Normally, black, bold coffee drinkers prefer a tannic, red wine. Those who prefer a milky coffee drink, would prefer something sweet, light or aromatic white or light red. This is just an indication of their palate’s sensitivity, but it is actually subjective.

  1. Also, keep in mind the dish that will be served alongside the wine. Check wine pairing sites to see what pairs well with the dish that will be served.

Now that these questions are filled, go pick up a bottle and let me guide you on how to demystify the wine label. A label can either be minimal or intimidating, my first tip is to take a deep breath for a moment and don’t let it confuse you! The label is meant to guide your purchase decision. Just find these key elements to understand the wine inside the bottle.

  • Wine Region– This is not just the country origin, the label also indicates the particular region in the country it is (harvested) from. The primary reason for this is that the grapes are affected by the region. If mentioned that the wine is in the northern hemisphere, the wine is acidic, it only means that it promises a tarty, fresh taste on your palate. If it is from the south or coastal region, it is generally fruit forward, plummy, medium to full-bodied wines.
  • Type of Wine– Sometimes, the wine region is known for a particular type of wine and it no longer needs to be mentioned in the label such as – Champagne, Cava, Burgundy, etc. However for some wines, it needs to be indicated properly. If not by region name, a wine type is also known from the grape variety it is made from – i.e., Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc.

Fun fact: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are known as grape brothers. However Cab Sauv is a strong version- bitter/tannic. Merlot has sweet light notes that can combat the bitter fruit driven Cab Sauv. Some winemakers blend both to compensate for the characteristic of the other. The varying process and the blending portions are left to the hands of the artful winemakers.

  • Harvest Year or Vintage – It is the easiest to figure out! Look at the year on the label. This is when the grapes were harvested. This is an important element to look into. As a general rule, it is better for reds to have an older year. For whites, the younger the better. Although note that there are whites that are exception to this rule. The older the wine, the more complex the wine flavors develop. It becomes more elegant and integrated to aroma and taste.
  • Appellation – Did you know that there are actually consortiums that define the standards of wine? These enforcements are made to ensure the standard compliance to winemaking. It simply protects the wine type’s integrity from the rising of artisan or radical craftsmanship in winemaking. It ensures that the traditional winemaking processes are complied with, but with varying levels from table wine to high quality ones. You can find the little long notes under the wine name- sometimes in different languages: Apellation d’origin Controlee in France, Denominazione di Origine Controllata in Italy, or Denominación de Origen in Spain – just to mention a few.
  • Alcohol by Volume (ABV) – A wine bottle ranges from 5.5%-12% but fortified wine such as Port can reach up to 20%. When you pour a bit of wine on glass, you will be able to see the slow liquid sliding through the glass as you rotate the glass. These are called wine legs, the slower, the higher the alcohol content – but of course this is a different discussion in the succeeding article!

So the next time you visit a wine store, make sure to watch out for these label elements. Happy wine shopping!


About the Author

Hi I’m Lyka, a marketing professional behind some food products you see in the restaurant market. I put in reality on product concepts and ideas, and grew my interest on product storytelling. Alongside my job, I developed my studies on wine, and found out that wine has the best stories to tell; just need to be corked open! Wine is science and art combined, but not a lot knows about how beautiful this is, and the stories just need to be told to be much appreciated and savoured. I passed my WSET Level 2 and currently hanging with some other cork dorks in my pursuit to learning more on wine. I try to simplify wine in easy sips of comprehension and complement it with its stories- as every wine is unique.

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