Insights Into Wine Labels

5 tips for choosing a great wine

Choosing a great wine can be a minefield, but wine labels contain a whole host of useful details to help you make an informed decision.

The UK has become a nation of wine drinkers with over 60 percent of adults choosing wine as their preferred alcoholic drink. Despite this, many of us find choosing a good wine a bit of a minefield, but learning how to ‘read’ and decipher wine labels can make all the difference when it comes to discerning what is a fine vintage and what is just one step up from vinegar!

Don’t judge on appearances

First things first, just as you should never judge a book by its cover, so you should never judge a wine purely by its bottle. Food labels and drink labels are designed to draw customers in, but a good quality label does not necessarily equal a good quality product. By basing your choice on appearance alone, you could find yourself opting for the wine with the biggest marketing budget rather than the wine with the best taste. Luckily, you can find lots of additional details on wine labels to help you make an informed decision.

Grape varieties

The variety is one of the key things many people look out for on a wine label. A wine’s variety refers to the grape or grapes used to make the wine, such as merlot, cabernet or chardonnay. However, many wine makers, particularly those from the Old World, don’t list a grape variety at all, preferring instead to label the wine based on where it’s produced – so don’t be deterred from buying a wine just because it doesn’t list the grape variety. There are a lot of other factors that can impact a wine’s taste.

Where is it made?

A wine label can provide important information on where the grapes used to produce the wine were grown and this in turn can give clues as to the flavour and quality of the end product. For example, grapes from warmer climates produce ripe, fruity wines whereas wines from cool climates are tarter and more acidic in flavour. Generally speaking, wines from a specific vineyard site tend to be better than wines from a broader region. As you narrow the source to a specific site you tend to find wines that are higher in both quality and price.

Check the alcohol percentage

A wine’s alcohol percentage level tells you how strong the drink is, but it also gives you an indication as to how the wine is likely to taste. Wines with a lower alcohol level, such as Rieslings, tend to have a sweeter flavour as there is usually some unfermented sugar left in the drink. In contrast, wines with a higher alcohol level are usually richer and full-bodied, and often tend to have a more fruit-forward flavour. Neither is inherently better than the other – it all comes down to personal preference.

Beware of food pairing recommendations

If you’re looking for a wine for a dinner party or special meal it’s tempting to choose a wine that has food pairing recommendations on the label. However, these can often be a clear warning sign that the wine is not as exciting as you might think. Generic pairing suggestions such as ‘goes well with red meat’ often mean that you will end up with a middle-of-the-road wine that goes with most things, rather than a distinctive brand of wine that really stands out.

Rather than being a chore, choosing a bottle of wine should be as fun as drinking it. A wine label can be a vital source of information, and by learning how to read it properly you can avoid being taken in by clever marketing and feel confident in choosing a great wine that won’t break the bank.