How to read a wine label

Labels labels labels… now how do you read a wine label and make sense?

There are so many labels out there it could easily be an Olympic discipline to be able to do so! Let’s take a look at the basics and remember, practice makes perfect!

The name of the wine is typically the first thing you’ll see, and it will give you a hint of what inspired the wine maker.

Some wines will be easily recognizable, such as Tignanello, for others you may have to keep reading to get more details. The producer of the wine will also be somewhere relatively easy to be seen, either in their logo or a writing that proudly highlights its origin.

From the origin you’ll be able to read the region it came from, i.e. Veneto. In some cases, especially with higher priced wines, the lot of land or the hill where the vineyard is may be specified (in the case of Prosecco DOCG you may find “Riva”, but each wine type may have a number of names they use for these details).

Some wines will have the type of the grape variety, such as Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon, while others may not carry this information so you may be able to figure out more by looking up the denomination, or appellation.

Main acronyms for Italian wines:

IGT: Indicazione Geografica Tipica
DOC: Denominazione di Origine Controllata
DOCG: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita

DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) has its origins in 1963 and is the oldest certification of its kind in Italy. The 1st DOC wine was Vernaccia di San Gimignano in 1966. The DOC label has been a fundamental part of the history of Italian wine, and the acronym has since become a term in Italy for anything of value or prestige.

DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is reserved for wines that have had the DOC certification for at least 5 years and are particularly valued. It also expresses a strict identification of the product with its territory of origin.

Different from the origine controllata, the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) imposes less severe rules than the other two kinds of denominazione. IGT is usually granted to types of wine with more extensive production areas.

You can find the list of all Italian so called appellation wines at this link: https://italianwinecentral.com/denominations-designation/

Going back to our label reading, the one thing you will want to review for sure is the ABV, Alcohol by Volume, which will tell you a lot about the wine.

American wines can be a bit heavier in ABV (up to 17%) while European, Italian wines will normally range from 10% to 14% ABV with plenty of variations. Many higher alcohol wines are made from riper grapes and tend to have more fruit forward flavours.

There may be other information on the label, such as the indication that the wine contains Suplhites, or that it is a Reserve (which really means nothing since there is not regulation around the use of this word) or where the wine was bottled.

It will all help you add to your knowledge so you can start understanding the wine through its label before even tasting it.

Happy ‘sommeliering’!