How To Read A Wine Label Properly: 8 Do’s & Don’ts

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Row of port wine bottles on a display rack

Wine labels have transformed over the years from their rather plain and "just the facts" origins. Now, when you shop for wines, the labels are eye-catching, and even at times, fun — with bright colors, pictures, and interesting fonts to draw the eye and make your collection more visually interesting. Some labels may stand out on a shelf, but what do they say about the wine inside the bottle?

It's very important to be able to read wine labels properly when selecting a wine, as they are packed with information and provide you the essential details about what's inside.

What's Included on Wine Labels?

While wine labels can range from classy to gaudy and from sophisticated to fun, all of them contain several essential details. Some of the information on a wine label may be critical and some is even mandated by the government:

  • Brand name
  • Grape variety
  •  Appellation of origin 
  • Name and address of the bottler
  • Health warning
  • Declaration of sulfates
  • Net volume
  • Alcohol content

How to Read a Wine Label Properly

Get to know the keywords to determine if the wine is something you might enjoy. There are also crucial components to take note of and possibly avoid.  Becoming an informed buyer is your first step on the path to becoming an intelleigent and informed consumer. When it comes to reading a wine label, there are nine highly recommended do's and don't to follow. 

1. Do Choose a Wine Label That Contains the Basics

A wine label must have all the government-mandated information so that the wine can be sold legally. Apart from this information, look if all the basic features are apparent and well-explained. A clearly worded label indicates the winery or producer in question isn't trying to hide behind the packaging. 

2. Do Choose a Wine Based on Alcohol by Volume

Alcohol by volume, or ABV, is an indispensable factor when choosing a wine. In fact, it is government-mandated that this information is included on a wine label. Wineries can place the alcohol by volume on the label in two ways: 

  • A specific number
  • A range of numbers

The percentage indicates how rich the wine is — wines with higher alcohol content tend to have more palate weight, whereas those lower in alcohol tend to be light or less heavy. In general, wines with a higher ABV also contain riper grapes and so have more intense flavors. 

3. Do Look at the Back Label When Buying Wine

While the front label contains some great information, the back label's important too. A wine bottle's back label also lists vital information like:

  • Information about the grapes (region or vineyard of origin, etc.) 
  • Bottling location and address
  • Alcohol content
  • Sulfates content (usually listed as "contains sulfates")
  • Company statement or motto
  • The story of the particular bottling or of the producer.

4. Do Shop at Established Wine Retailers

Established wine retailers offer various options all in one place, which can simplify your shopping process and free up more time for what you enjoy — collecting and drinking wine. 

Wine retailers often have wine experts on hand to assist you in sifting through the thousands of wine varietals available on the market and selecting a high-quality wine. For example, JJ Buckley is a high-end, online wine retailer, and you can reach out to our online experts to help find the perfect varietal of wine for your collection. 

5. Don't Fall for the Catchy Lingo

Catchy words or phrases like "handcrafted" and "noble" are meaningless terms written on wine labels to tempt buyers. The fact is that all wine is a handmade product to some degree, so it's redundant to advertise it as such. As for the nobility of wine, well, it's made from grapes. Enough said.

6. Don't Leave Incorrect Spelling Unnoticed

Because labels are often the first consumer connection with a bottle of wine, wineries are generally extra careful to cross the t's and dot the i's. Simple mistakes like misspelling a varietal name can be a genuine oversight, but high-end wineries avoid such mistakes at all costs. If you encounter labels with spelling mistakes, think twice about purchasing. These mistakes show that the winery may be careless with their product, and it can reflect on the quality of the wine. 

7. Don't Assume Award Winning Wines are Superior 

Many wine labels include terms like "award-winning" or "world-class", or feature a series of medals. Unfortunately, for the most part, these are trivial. Wine competitions can be a marketing ploy and some competitions have many "winners" in a single contest. Others even charge high-dollar entry fees. If you recognize and trust the organizing body or publication who awarded the medal, then by all means use it as part of your purchasing criteria. Otherwise, take it with a grain of salt.

8. Don't Automatically Grab the Bold Wine

Labels often include the term "bold" to make the wine sound more desirable. However, this may be another marketing ploy. Red wines are typically the boldest anyway, but it's the alcohol and tannin contents which actually determine a wine's "boldness".

Armed with the proper knowledge of how to read a wine label, add some fantastic wines to your collection today!