They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but does the same apply to a bottle of wine?
While many of us will admit to being influenced by an impressive logo and swirling font, the information on a wine label can really help you understand the quality and character of the splash, once you know what all the confusing jargon actually means.
You don’t have to be an expert; fFrom the vintage year to the region, knowing a few key things to keep an eye out for will ensure that the next bottle of wine you pick up at your local grocery store doesn’t end up in the sink.
Here, FEMAIL speaks to Lukasz Kolodziejczyk, head of wine at Cult Wines, who explains how to decipher a wine label.
While many of us will admit to being influenced by an impressive logo and swirling font, the information on a wine label can really help you understand the quality and character of the splash, once you know what all the confusing jargon actually means ( stock image)
BRAND AND PRODUCER
This is arguably the most important piece of information on a wine label, simply because a producer’s reputation has a clear link to the quality of the wine they produce.
Iconic producers with an established reputation can charge a higher price based on this alone.
Other manufacturers are positioning themselves as recognizable private labels and their name offers buyers familiarity and reassurance.
I believe that German producers of Pinot Noir such as Wingnut Julg, Fritz Keller and Shelter Winery offer authentic wines with a great price and high quality.
French premium wines will usually show their classification as a matter of tradition.
This is the quality label approved by the wine body, based on the classification system applicable to the region where the wine comes from.
For example, the Saint Emilion classification includes three tiers: Premier Grand Cru Classe ‘A’, Premier Grand Cru Classe ‘B’ and Grand Cru Classe.
In Burgundy, meanwhile, wines can fall under the status ‘grand cru’ or ‘premier cru’.
NAME AND GRAPE VARIETY
This helps to distinguish between the wines within a producer’s range.
Some producers, especially well-known everyday brands that can be found on supermarket shelves, will simply use the grape variety such as ‘Chardonnay’ or ‘Merlot’.
Others will give their wines specific names that help tell a brand story or family history.
Once described as one of Spain’s most innovative and influential winemakers, Familia Torres makes fantastic wines across the range that cost just £ 10. They can be found at Waitrose Cellar and have a delicious, structured flavor.
I would say German Riesling is one of those grapes that come in many styles from dry to deliciously sweet. Growers to be sought are Weingut Wittmann, Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm and Keller Wein.
Note that the grape variety is not always on the label; many producers will use the region instead.
However, this can be as broad as ‘South Australia’, which includes more than 50 percent of the wine made across the country, as opposed to a single vineyard.
To get the highest quality wine, look out for specific destinations where the grapes were grown.
New Zealand is a country known for its quality wine. They have a fantastic climate and terroir to produce the best Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
The vintage reflects the year the grapes were harvested and can tell you a lot about the wine, if you are familiar with vintage variations.
When it comes to drinking vintage wine, three to five years of age generally works best for wine as it will give it time to settle in the bottle.
Examples that show this include the red Bourgognes 2017 and Bordeaux 2015.
In the event that there is no year on the label, or the term ‘NV’ or ‘non-vintage’ is present, it means that grapes from multiple vintages were used to make the wine.
As a rule of thumb, non-vintage wines are usually ready to drink at release, are unlikely to improve with age, and cost less than vintage wines.
The alcohol by volume (ABV) of a wine can actually reveal a lot about the wine, although this information is usually displayed on the back of a bottle.
In many wine regions in Europe, only wines of the highest quality are allowed to have an alcohol content of 13.5% or more, while in America some alcohol content can be very high, up to 17%.
Many wines with a high alcohol content are made from ripe grapes and have more fruity flavors, which can give an indication of how alcoholic the wine may taste.
The alcohol content does not really indicate quality; you can find wines with moderate 12.5% alcohol that are not that good. It is more about harmony between wine taste and aroma, followed by a proportioned harmony between acidity, alcohol and tannins.
CONDITIONS TO BEWARE OF A WINE LABEL
Wine at winery: This means that the wine is grown, produced and bottled on a single estate, and is usually of inferior quality.
To reserve: This term may give a wine some extra appeal, but it doesn’t mean anything official. That said, some smaller producers use it to designate their top wines.
Old vines: Or in French: ‘Vielles Vins’. Using grapes from older vines usually results in more concentrated flavors in a wine, but again, there are no rules to say exactly how old a vine must be for a producer to use this term on a label – they can range from 15 to 115 years!
With these basic terms you are in a good position to choose the right wine. Don’t just rely on the label, however attractive it may be – get used to looking at the details and you’ll quickly be making informed and tasty choices.
For more information, please visit https://www.wineinvestment.com/