Much has been said about food labels recently and potential changes in labeling. It’s a topic that got people talking because almost all of us are in the habit of looking at the number of calories, ingredients, and other nutritional information that’s included on nearly every product we eat. Something we’re not as familiar with, however, is the information contained on wine labels.
We usually choose a wine based on a recommendation, because we recognize the winery, because we’ve tried it before in a restaurant, or because the name catches our eye. It’s not very often that we make a decision based on studying and understanding the information we find on what, for many, is the wine’s ID card.
So that’s exactly what we’re going to try to explain in this post: how to read a wine label, in this case, a Spanish one. The aim? So that the next time you have to pick a wine, you do so consciously, being familiar with all its details and characteristics. Let’s go!
This is like the wine’s cover letter. And one of the most important aspects, since it’s the first thing a consumer identifies on the bottle. Sometimes the brand name is the same as the winery name. Other times, the wine’s brand name aims to reflect part of its history and personality. In any case, it’s a fundamental part of the wine that expresses the essence and what the product wants to convey, using just one or several words.
There’s been a growing trend in recent years to give wines jazzy, original names, and, as we’ve seen, some of these names can even act as the decisive factor when choosing which wine to buy.
2. Designation of Origin (D.O.)
In Spain, wine labels must include information about the wine’s Designation of Origin, unless it’s a wine that’s not protected by this kind of endorsement. The D.O. tells us about where the wine comes from and/or the local regulatory board that makes the rules about wines from that place.
D.O.s aren’t only used for wines, but also other agricultural and food products to guarantee the quality and characteristics of these products.
The address of the producer and bottler usually appear on the label, too, in addition to the country of origin in the case of wines for export.
There is another special reference that guarantees the exceptional nature of wine in Catalonia: The Vi de Finca or Single Vineyard qualification. Wines labeled with this reference are made from grapes that come from just one vineyard, with a specific soil type and microclimate that favors the ultimate expression of the wine. It’s the highest recognition a Catalan wine can go for.
3. Alcohol content (alcohol by volume)
Another legal requirement is to state the wine’s alcohol content as a percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV). This number is something that can give us a clue about the body of the wine. If you’re looking for a light, easy-drinking wine, make sure the alcohol content is no higher than 13%.
4. Year of harvest or vintage
Wine labels should also include the year the grapes were harvested. Although this isn’t mandatory, it is very useful because it’s an indication of the wine’s quality.
In the case of Spanish wines, the vintage is often accompanied by the time the wine has spent aging in a barrel and in the bottle. So, depending on the total time the wine has spent in the barrel and bottle, you’ll be able to tell the difference between Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva wines, the Spanish terms used to designate the different aging periods, starting from Joven wines that have had little or no aging and going up to Gran Reserva, which have been aged for at least five years.
“What are sulfites and what are they used for?” “Are sulfites harmful?” These are some of the most common searches on Google when it comes to sulfites. Sulfites are the only preservatives that are allowed to protect the wine from biological changes. This information has to appear on the wine label, to indicate whether it contains sulfites, or if it contains a lower amount, as in the case of some organic wines.
6. The back label
The label on the back side of the bottle is where we can find the description of the wine, all of the information about the production method and ideal pairings, its description and/or story, in addition to details about the grape variety, seals, certifications, etc. If you spend some time reading this label, you’ll be able to identify which aspects you like more than others and you’ll learn something new about the great wine in your hands.