Decoding American Wine Labels: A Simple Guide For Anyone

Understanding wine labels can often seem like deciphering a foreign language. But, worry not! I’m here to help you decode American wine labels. With these insights, you’ll find it easier to make more informed choices and possibly discover new favorites.

The Anatomy of an American Wine Label

  1. Brand or Producer Name

At the top, you will often see the name of the winery or producer. This gives you an idea of who made the wine. Some producers have a consistent style or quality level across their wines, so knowing the producer can be very informative.

  1. Vintage

The vintage is the year in which the grapes were harvested. This is an important factor as it can greatly affect the taste of the wine. Certain years are known for producing higher quality wines due to favorable weather conditions.

  1. Grape Variety or Appellation

American wine labels often include the grape variety, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. To label a wine as a particular grape variety, at least 75% of the wine must be made from that grape.

If you don’t see a grape variety, you might see an appellation instead. Appellations are legally defined geographic areas that the grapes come from. When an appellation is listed, it means that at least 85% of the grapes used in the wine must come from that area.

  1. Alcohol by Volume (ABV)

Alcohol content is usually given as a percentage and tells you how much alcohol is in the wine. Most wines range from about 9% to 16% alcohol by volume. Wines above 14% ABV are often richer and fuller-bodied, while those with less alcohol tend to be lighter in style.

  1. Estate Bottled

When you see ‘Estate Bottled’ on a label, it means the wine was made entirely from grapes grown in the winery’s own vineyards or under the winery’s control and was bottled at the winery.

Look Out for These:

  1. AVA Designation

The American Viticultural Area (AVA) system identifies the origins of a wine. Look out for AVAs like Napa Valley, Sonoma, or Willamette Valley. These AVAs have made a name for themselves and often produce wines of a certain quality and character.

  1. Reserve

Be cautious with this term as it is unregulated in the United States. Sometimes it indicates a higher quality wine from a producer, but since there is no legal standard, it can be used freely.

  1. Awards and Medals

Some wines might have stickers or notations about awards or medals they have won. While this can indicate a well-received wine, be aware that there are countless wine competitions and not all are prestigious.

Wine labels hold a wealth of information. However, don’t be swayed by fancy terms or elaborate label designs. Use the information on the label to guide you but remember, the best wine is one that suits your palate. So, go ahead and explore.

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Written by

Bernard Marr has a deep passion for wine. He has written hundreds of articles on wine, including features for Forbes, covering wine-making and industry trends. Away from the world of wine, Bernard is a world-renown business and technology futurist. He is the award winning author of over 20 best-selling books and has a combined audience of nearly 4 million people across his social media channels and newsletters.

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