Watch Wine Videos

How To Read a Wine Label – Wine 101 Videos (Ep. 4)

Stop trying to memorize labels. There’s a better way!

Did you know that there are over one hundred thousand new wines and new vintages that are released by the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – ttb.gov) each year?

Knowing this fact might make you rethink your strategy of memorize labels. Fortunately, there’s a better way!

If you simmer down all the labels to their meta information, you’ll realize there are essentially three ways that wines are classified:

  1. Wines labeled by variety.
  2. Wines labeled by region.
  3. Wines labeled by made-up name.
This is a Riesling from Napa Valley by Smith-Madrone that is labeled by grape variety.

Wines labeled by variety are not always 100% single variety.

Different countries have different labeling minimums. For example, the US requires just 75% of the listed variety (in most cases), whereas, Argentina requires 80% of the listed variety. Some individual, classified regions, such as Brunello di Montalcino, require 100%! (This is made from Sangiovese grapes, BTW).

A bottle of Muscadet wine – Muscadet is a region in France that produces white wines with Melon grapes.

It’s common to find wines labeled by region in old world countries including France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

Back in the early 1800s, the local vintner-farmers would band together to promote their region. Each region would pool resources and market their unique product.

The most successful regions produced singular and consistent wines. These regional wines include some of the most famous wine blends of all time!

This is an Italian Supertuscan blend that uses a fantasy or made-up name, “Terrestre.”

What happens when you have a unique wine that’s nothing like what your neighbors make? And, what if your wine is a special concoction of wine grapes?

When you don’t follow regional wine rules and don’t stick to a single grape, then you’ll have to go your own way. In the wine world, we call this a made-up or fantasy name.

Several amazing wines out there in the world use this strategy.

Of course, really cheap, bulk wines use this same method. So, be sure to do your research!

Get The Book

The companion to this series is the new Wine Folly Guide – completely redesigned and rebuilt from the ground up. This one has over two times the content of the first, bestselling book.

See Book

About Madeline Puckette

I'm a certified sommelier and creator of the NYT Bestseller, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. Find me out there in the wine world @WineFolly