A Simple Guide to Understanding Wine Labels

If you think wine labels are confusing, you’re not alone.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about wines. Sadly, most of it boils down to the confusing labels.

Do you think that wine styles are named by how they taste? Maybe you think the year on the wine bottle is when you are suppose to drink it?

Whether you are an occasional wine drinker or wine is your life, read on. You may learn something.

Brand Name

The brand name on wine labels are fairly straight forward. It is the name of the wine. This may be the name of the wine’s producer, a created name for the wine, or anything the company chooses as long as it does not mislead.

Name or Variety of Wine

This is the name of the wine style. Most wines are named in one of two ways. The first way is by the grapes that are used. A wine is named for one type of grape (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, etc) must contain 75% or more of that type of grape. If the label lists multiple grape varieties, it is because none of the grapes made up more than 75% of the wine’s contents. In this case, all grapes that were used mused be listed. The other way wines are named is by region the wines were made. This happens with many European wines. Port, Burgundy, and Bordeaux are a few examples.


The vintage listed on wine labels tells us when the grapes for the wine were harvested. Ninety-five percent of the grapes must be harvested in the year that appears on the bottle. And no, that is not the year you are suppose to drink it. You can drink it that year or age it and drink it later! Depending on the style, this can be preferred.

Alcohol Percentage

The United States lists Alcohol by Volume, or ABV. This is the percent of alcohol present in a volume of liquid. Some other countries list alcohol percentage by weight.

Name of the Producer

This is another easily recognized part of wine labels. The producer’s name is what a lot of wine enthusiasts look at first when picking up a bottle of wine. Some wine producers consistently producer amazing wine and are more sought after.

Name and Address of the Bottler

A lot of times the bottler and producer are the same company. That is not always the case however. That is why the bottler’s information must be listed as well. If the label reads “Estate Bottled,” that means the wine bottler and producer are the same.

Name of the Importer

Are you tired of all the names yet? I know I am. Wines that are imported into the country and handled by someone until they are distributed also list the name of the company who imported the wines.

Volume in Bottle

This is either listed on the label or engraved on the bottle itself. This is simple the amount of liquid in the bottle. The standard wine bottle holds 750ml.

Growing Region

Though some wines are named for their place of origin, others list this information on their wine labels in addition to the name. This is a common practice in areas that are known for great wine such as Napa Valley, Sonoma and Hunter Valley. If this information is on the bottle, a large percentage of the grapes in the wine must be from that region.


On the less confusing wine labels, companies will describe their wine or educate the buyer on the variety. A lot of times, this is used to let the buyer know both what to expect and what additional things this wine has undergone. It may say that the wine has been barrel aged for example. There is no law in place to make the wine producer list this type of information however.

Sulfites and Government Warning

“Contains Sulfites” is often listed on wine labels to inform the consumer that the wine has used Sulfur Dioxide at some point in the process. Sulfites cause allergic reactions in some people. Additionally, the government warning that is on all alcoholic beverages must be listed on the label.

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About the Author Harold Eaker