How to Read a wine label (U.S.)

Reading a wine label from the U.S. is a lot easier than reading wine labels from other countries. Wine labels are very useful in explaining information on location, wineries, varietals, vintages and many other useful terms that can help any consumer in choosing a wine that is good for them. Around 1983, new federal wine label requirements changed the minimum information that a label must contain before it hits the shelves. Out of all the bottles of wine on the shelf, it is important to make sure your label stands out amongst the rest. Unfortunately a beautiful label doesn’t mean it is a great wine but the information contained on the label might. Some pieces of information like vintage can be useful because wine varies year to year due to the weather conditions. Wine labeling systems also protect not only the consumer but the producers as well. Inaccurate information on a label is illegal and so labels enforce quality.

Some of the information you may find are:

  1. Name of Vineyard- This is optional information that vineyards may add because the property of the winery might produce high quality grapes. Some vineyards might have the notoriety of producing great wines so they would most likely mention the vineyard on the label.
  2. Vintage- The vintage is very important because wine differs year to year due to climatic changes. There are charts that you can use to determine which year was the best in certain regions.
  3. Region- Region or Appellation of Origen (AOC) explains region within certain states or geographical distinctions. California laws require that 100% of the grapes come from within California. Other states require at least 75% of the grapes come from that state. When a label states a particular area like “Napa Valley” it means that 85 % of the grapes used come from that area.
  4. Varietals- The varietal is the wine type. In 1983 the law stated that a varietal must contain at least 75% of the varietal listed. 100% varietal are not automatically better wines. Some of the best wines have different percentages of different grapes. Prior to 1983, the law required only 51% of the named varietal.
  5. Alcohol Percentage- The alcohol percentage states the amount of alcohol the wine contains by volume. This is a mandatory requirement for all wines.

After 1988 they established a mandatory law to declare the amount of sulfites contained in the wine. Wines which have levels above 10 parts per million of sulfur dioxide must be labeled.

They also established a law stating that any wine after 1989 must have a federal warning, like the warnings they put on cigarettes.

Some labels may include more information than others depending on the producers. Some wineries have designers create new labels for them every year while others may continue using their original labels but that is all left up to the discretion of the producer. Hopefully this article will help you in determining what wine is right for you. Wine classification laws may differ from country to country. Some wines may classify their wines by region only. Please refer to my other blogs about wine labels from other countries. As always this is William Wineheart wishing you good friends, good food, and good wine…enjoy!