Learning From Labels

Want a quick education on wine. Read some labels. The label on a wine bottle tells you everything you need to know about the wine, accept of course whether or not you are going to like it. Here are some of the things you will find on a wine label.

Name is a good place to start. Most wines don’t have a name. North American wine labels usually center on the variety of grape from which the wine is made. But blended wines can’t be labeled with a variety, so most blended wines have a brand name. The brand name is simply a made-up name the winemaker has given to his product.

Quality Designations like reserve and select are meant to imply that special attention has been given to making the wine. This terminology must be taken with a grain-of-salt. Even if one maker’s “reserve” Cabernet is especially good, that says nothing about another makers reserve wines.

Geography, commonly referred to as appellation, is about where the wine’s grapes were grown. Since terrain, soil and climate determine the character of grapes, where the grapes are grown is important. There may be varying degrees of detail. The label could simply read California, a very broad appellation that doesn’t tell you much. Or the label could be very specific, indicating the wine comes from a specific vineyard, within a specific district, within a specific region of California. As you become more familiar with wine, you will find the more detailed appellations very helpful.

Vintage is the year in which the wine’s grapes were harvested, not the year the wine was made or bottled. Ninety-five percent of the wine must be made from grapes harvested in the year on the label. A label without a vintage implies the wine is a blend of grapes harvested in more than one year.

Filtering is a process used to clarify wine just prior to bottling. The purpose of filtering is to remove yeast cells and other microorganisms that could spoil the wine, as well as any sediment that would keep it from being crystal clear. Since filtering affects a wine’s flavor and body, a small number of winemakers do not filter their wines. Unfiltered wines will be labeled “unfiltered” and may look cloudy in the glass.

Sulfites are added to wine as a preservative. People allergic to sulfites have varying unpleasant reactions to them. Sulfites also occur naturally in grapes, so even organic wines are not necessarily sulfite-free. Wines in the U.S. must be labeled as containing sulfites if they contain more than 10 parts per million.

Alcohol content doesn’t just effect how you feel; it affects the wine’s taste, texture, and structure. In the United States table wine is between 11% and 14% alcohol. The law permits a 1.5% margin of error, so a wine labeled 12.5% can have as little as 11% and as much as 14% alcohol by volume. We perceive high alcohol wines as having more body than low alcohol wines.

Cellar Notes

Sauvignon Blanc [SOH-veen-yawn blonk] is the second best-selling varietal wine after Chardonnay. Typically Sauvignon Blanc is produced as a dry, medium-bodied, refreshing white wine with notable crispness and acidity. The wine has a marvelous bouquet with aromas of grapefruit, green melon, lime, gooseberry, passion fruit, grass, and green peppers. Sauvignon Blanc is extremely food friendly working well with poultry, ham, fish, shellfish, soups, salads and cheeses such as ricotta, feta, chevre, Swiss and mozzarella

Here are three Sauvignon Blanc’s, all under $15. Notice that the Dry Creek is labeled as Fume Blanc [FU-may blonk], which is just an alias for Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc does not improve with age, so drink it young.

Sauvignon Blanc
Leaping lizard
Napa Valley California
Spec’s $10 – $15

BV Coastal Estates Sauvignon Blanc
Beaulieu Vineyard
Spec’s $5 – $10

Fume Blanc
Dry Creek Vineyards
Sonoma County California
Spec’s $10 – $15