How Do You Read a Wine Label?

Oct 6, 2023by Andrew Lowry

Decoding Wine Labels: Old World vs New World

Wine labels can be confusing, especially when comparing Old World and New World wines. Let's break down the differences and help you understand what you're really getting in that bottle.

Old World Wine Labels: A Complex Puzzle

William Fevre 2008 Wine

Old World wine labels tend to be more intricate, often omitting the grape variety. This can be challenging for consumers who aren't familiar with regional wine production.

Why Are Old World Labels So Complex?

The complexity stems from a focus on:

  • Terroir (the environmental factors affecting the wine)
  • Regional traditions
  • Appellation systems

Decoding an Old World Wine Label: A Chablis Example

Let's examine a Chablis Grand Cru label from top to bottom:

  1. Chablis Grand Cru:
    • Chablis: The wine region (AOC in France)
    • Grand Cru: The highest quality designation for Chablis
  2. Appellation Chablis Grand Cru Contrôlée:
    • Certifies the wine's origin and adherence to regional standards
  3. Bougros:
    • The specific vineyard or 'climat' in Chablis (only 15 hectares)
  4. Côte Bouguerots:
    • The producer's name for this specific wine
  5. Domaine William Fevre:
    • The producer's name
    • "Domaine" indicates it's from their main house in Chablis
  6. 2008:
    • The vintage (year the grapes were harvested)
  7. Estate grown, produced, and bottled by William Fevre, Chablis, France:
    • Indicates all aspects of production occurred on-site
  8. Produced in France, Product of France:
    • Legal terms required by French law
  9. White Burgundy Wine:
    • A somewhat misleading term, as Chablis only allows Chardonnay

Old World Label Quirks

  • Grape varieties are often not mentioned
  • Regional knowledge is assumed
  • Quality designations can be complex

New World Wine Labels: Simplicity and Clarity

Tyler 2020 Pinot Noir

New World wine labels prioritize consumer-friendly information, making it easier for buyers to understand what's in the bottle.

Key Features of New World Labels

  • Clearly stated grape variety (must be at least 85% of the wine)
  • Harvest location (from broad regions to specific vineyards)
  • Producer name
  • Vintage (if 85-95% of grapes are from the same year)

The Evolution of New World Labels

Modern New World labels are pushing boundaries:

  • Minimalist designs with trendy artwork
  • Focus on visual appeal to attract consumers
  • Some labels may omit traditional information entirely

Comparing Old World and New World Labels

Old World New World
Complex Straightforward
Region-focused Grape-focused
Requires wine knowledge Consumer-friendly
Traditional designs Modern, sometimes minimalist designs

Why Understanding Wine Labels Matters

  1. Helps you make informed purchasing decisions
  2. Enhances your wine tasting experience
  3. Allows you to explore wines with confidence
  4. Impresses friends and colleagues with your wine knowledge

Navigating the World of Wine Labels

Whether you're facing an intricate Old World label or a sleek New World design, understanding wine labels is key to enjoying and appreciating wine. With practice, you'll be able to decode even the most complex labels and choose wines that suit your taste preferences.

Remember, the most important thing is to enjoy the wine inside the bottle, regardless of what the label says! 

Have questions? We love talking wine, so drop us a line!