You can learn a lot from reading a wine label. You also can learn nothing at all.
Allow us to explain.
Among the important pieces of information you can glean from perusing a label are the winery that made the wine, the region in which the grapes were grown, what year those grapes were grown, and the variety of the grapes.
Federal law also requires that the alcohol level be listed, along with other specific information (generally appearing in fine print) regarding where the wine was bottled and, if it’s a non-domestic wine, who imported it.
But some of the language found on wine labels has little real meaning. It may be indicative of some sort of special treatment in the cellar or unusual source of the grapes used in making the wine… but then again, it may not.
In many cases, this type of verbiage is used primarily to market the wine – words or phrases that catch the eye and to which the brain reacts either favorably or with a desire to learn more. In essence, a wine label is like a tiny billboard; its main purpose is not to inform, but rather to sell.
And that’s okay, as long as the end user – in this case, the wine drinker – has a clear understanding of the words and phrases used.
We’ve compiled a list of words and phrases that you may encounter on a wine label, but which have no “legal” meaning. In no case are we asserting that wineries using these phrases are engaged in “bait-and-switch” tactics.” Rather, we’re simply encouraging a “buyer beware” approach…
* RESERVE. Infers that the wine received special treatment, either in the selection of the grapes or the use of oak barrels.
* CELLAR SELECT. See: “Reserve.”
* OAK AGED. Infers that the wine was aged in oak barrels; the truth could be that oak chips were used.
* UNOAKED. Infers that no oak barrels were used for aging.
* OLD VINE. Infers that the wine was made from grapes grown on very old vines, but there is no accepted definition of “old.”
* LATE HARVEST. Infers that the grapes used to make the wine were picked long after the “regular” harvest was completed, thus possessing high sugar levels.