Decoding the Wine Label Mysteries

Your love for wine should match your wine knowledge. Don’t just enjoy a bottle of Port without understanding what the terms on the label mean. For instance, do you know what ‘Contains Sulfites’ or ‘Residual Sugar’ mean? As you fill your stomach with wine, you should also try and fill your head with knowledge about wine, like knowing how to read a wine label. If you are a true wine enthusiast, learning about wine should always be fun and exciting rather than intimidating. If you want to understand wine, you need to focus on the label. It is where you get information like body, sweetness, complexity, flavor, and style from. To become a savvy wine taster, you need to learn how to read wine labels. Read on to demystify wine terms.

The Basic Elements of a Wine Label

Just like any product, the label tells you all about the wine. When picking your bottle, the label will give you information on how to savor a bottle of wine. In most countries, information like alcohol content, name, and volume are compulsory. However, laws and alcohol regulations will differ from country to country.

If you look at your bottle of wine, you will notice that it has two labels, one in front and the other one at the back. We are going to look at all of them in detail. Each one will help you determine the quality of wine you are having.

An Extraordinary Name and Design

Although this is optional, the majority of wine producers will use fancy names to appeal to wine consumers and their demographic. It also helps to differentiate the brand on the front label.

Winemaker or Bottler

For every wine label, the winemaker or the bottler’s information is mandatory. It is used to tell the consumer who made the wine. In case there is no brand name on the label, the bottler’s name will stand-in for that. The name appears typically on the front label in a large format. You may also find it in small texts on the bottle top or at the bottom of the label. Here is a list of several common producer descriptions:

  • Produced and bottled by – This is meant to tell the bottler who fermented over 75% of that wine and is located at the stated address.
  • Cellared and bottled by – This shows that the wine was subjected to cellar treatment before bottling at the stated address.
  • Bottled by – This information shows that the wine created was crushed, fermented, or aged somewhere else, but was only bottled at the stated address.

Estate Bottling or Winery Information

This information shows or certifies that 100% of the grapes used to make the wine is grown on land that the winery owns or controls. On the label, this information will be disclosed in different languages such as the German “Gutsabfüllung“; French “Mise en Bouteille(s) au Chateau” or the English “Estate Bottled” or “Grown, Produced and Bottled.”


It provides information on the alcohol levels in that wine. ABV is usually expressed in percentage by volume. The higher the percentage, the drier the wine. You can gauge whether the wine is sweet or dry by looking at its ABV. Dry wines usually have 12.5% or higher ABV. Those wines that go lower than this have more residual sugar and are therefore sweeter.

Contains sulfites

It is natural for wines to have sulfites since they are found in the grape skins. Sulfites in wine are also found in sulfite dioxide (SO2), which is used as a preservative in bottled wines. These compounds are believed to cause headaches, but this is nothing but a supposition. The headaches are usually caused by alcohol, especially when consumed in large amounts.

Region or Appellation

The majority of wines will indicate the geographical region, where the grapes were derived from producing the wine. Wines from a particular vineyard will be indicated in quotations or below the region description. These wines are usually expensive since they are considered more subtle than those from a general region.

Varietal or Wine Type

Wine varieties or wine type shows what grape(s) are used to produce the wine in question. Wines using varietal names should have at least 75 percent of their volume from a designated grape. They should also have their varietal names shown on the label with an appellation of origin. If the wine is a blend, the percentage of the varietals used is not mentioned.

Organic or 100 percent organic wine

The term organic in the U.S. is regulated and needs to fit specific criteria. You may, however, find different wordings in the same criteria. Organically grown grapes are cultivated without pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. Also, sulfites are not used to preserve these wines during wine production.


The year when the grapes were harvested is referred to as vintage. A vintage wine will normally have a date listed on the wine label. This shows that the grapes were harvested in the same year. Non-vintage or multi-vintage wines are less valuable since the winemaker used grapes harvested in different years to control the flavors.

Biodynamic Wine

These are wines that have been made using grapes that have been biodynamically harvested. It is just like organic farming but focuses more on specific methods that involve nurture soil preparations to build soil health. Just like choosing organic wine, choosing biodynamic wine depends on your personal preference, but you should know that these wines are expensive.

Sustainable wine

This kind of label refers to the way the vineyard is managed instead of how the wine is produced, making it pretty much subjective. It uses natural methods to balance the soil, which includes crop rotation. It also involves water and energy-saving practices. Your wine may have been made “sustainably,” using sustainable farming methods, but it doesn’t mean that it was organically made. If you don’t see it in the label that the wine is organic, better not to assume it is.

Natural, all-natural or 100 percent natural wine

Natural wines are those that were produced without using chemicals in the wine production process. It can either be organic wine or biodynamic wine. However, these types of wines are not always natural. Also, they may or may not be produced sustainably. It is hard to tell which wine was made “natural,” “all-natural,” or “100 percent natural.” That is where labels come in handy, to explain to you exactly how the wine was made. However, it’s essential to know that natural wines have shorter shelf-life.

Sweetness Level Or Residual Sugar:

Residual sugar in wine refers to leftover sugar after fermentation. The majority of local wine stores will label the wine as dry even if it contains 10 g/L of residual sugar. You should note that for wine to be considered sweet, it should start from 35 grams per liter of residual sugar and move up from there, usually in case of sweet iterations like Moscato or Riesling.

Additional Information

On the back, there is another label that may or may not have additional information. Additional information includes things like wine pairings suggestions, personal tasting notes, wine aging specifications, suggested serving temperature, medals or prizes awarded, or estate history.

In the end, follow your instinct!

When you want to buy wine at the store, two things should help you consider buying a particular bottle from the other one. That is the wine labeling info and the name of the importer on the label. You may find yourself falling in love with how the company approaches its wine selection or style. Whatever you decide, ensure you equip yourself with enough wine vocabulary to make sure you get what you desire.