Wine label: how to read it corretcly
Buying a good wine must be an accurate process, starting from the shelves of the wine shop and ending at home, with storage and tasting. Knowing how to choose wine is fundamental in order to buy a product consciously – without being influenced by the seller or by the appealing graphics – and to make sure a perfect tasting experience.
But how can you know and correctly choose a wine? It is possible with its label: it is the real identity card of a wine and gives all the information needed to recognize its fundamental characteristics.
Therefore, knowing how to read a wine’s label is the first step towards an excellent tasting.
Labeling rules and designations
In August 2009 have come into force the new labeling rules valid for the European Union, which have uniformed wine appellations at international level, while keeping the national appellations still widely used, that is IGT, DOC and DOCG. The new classification of wines includes:
- Wine – referred to generic wines, once defined as table wines, without any appellation of origin and having no specific quality characteristics. This category also includes varietal wine, that is the generic wine obtained by the following grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon, Syrah;
- IGP wine (Indicazione Geografica Protetta, Protected Geographical Indication) – these are the wines which are also called IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica, Typical Geographical Indication) in Italy. Production disciplinary of these wines have specific parameters to which producers must abide by;
- DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta, Denomination of Protected Origin) wine – this category includes Italian DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, Denomination of Controlled Origin) and DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) wines. Production disciplinary are much more strict and specific than the ones for PGI wines.
Mandatory and optional indications
According to European laws there are some information that must be written in wine’s label, in particular they must be readable in a single visual field, therefore without having to turn the bottle. All wines must contain in the label the following mandatory information:
- Category of wine product: that is the type of wine, such as wine, sparkling wine, fortified wine, wine made from dried grapes etc.; it can be omitted for PDO and PGI wines;
- Denomination: in case of PDO and PGI wines must be written the full expression or the acronym plus the name of the respective denomination (for example Barolo, Sicily). Alternatively the full Italian word DOC or DOCG and IGT can be written;
- Alcohol content: indicates the alcoholic content (or alcohol by volume) that is the percentage by volume of ethyl alcohol actually contained in the wine;
- Origin: for Italian wines without a denomination, “produced in Italy” must be indicated; for DOP and IGP wines from other countries, “produced in…” and the name of the country where the wine was produced must be indicated, or “wine of the European Community” if it is a blend of wines from different member states;
- Bottler: the name (or company name), municipality and member state must be indicated, whereas in case of sparkling wines only producer or seller must be indicated;
- Importer: if the wine is imported;
- Batch number: it allows to identify and trace the wine and it is the set of sales units (bottles or demijohns) produced or packaged in identical circumstances;
- Sulfites: sulfur dioxide and sulfites (from E220 to E228) must be mandatorily indicated in the label with the words “contains sulfites” or “contains sulfur dioxide”; sulfites are preservatives, often produced naturally as a consequence of the action of yeast during alcoholic fermentation, but if they are not enough for the preservation of taste and flavor as well as to block the proliferation of bacteria, they are also added artificially;
- Other allergenic substances: e.g., since 2012, eggs and milk;
- Nominal value: that is the quantity of liquid present in the container (ex: 75 cl or 750 ml);
- Sugar content: for sparkling wines it indicates the quantity of sugar present in the wine;
- Vintage: compulsory only for PDO wines, excluding sparkling wines, semi-sparkling wines and fortified wines.
Wine label can be completed with further optional information, in order to better illustrate the qualities and qualities of the wine. For example, in case of PDO wines it can be written “riserva” (reserve) or “riserva speciale” (special reserve), in case the wine has been aged for a longer period, or the word “superiore” (superior) in case the wine has better characteristics than simple DOC wines. Other information can be used to give indications about consumption. For example in some labels can be read information about the way to keep and serve the wine (for example “uncork some hours before consumption”), or recommendations about food matching.
Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto Labels
Let’s see specifically the example of the label of two Fratelli Vogadori wines: Amarone della Valpolicella Classico and Recioto della Valpolicella Classico.
The front side of the label of Amarone della Valpolicella Classico includes mandatory information such as the denomination of sale (Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita), vintage (2015), nominal volume (750 ml), bottler (“bottled at origin by Brunelli Rita – Negrar – Italy”), provenance (“produced in Italy”) alcohol content (15%vol.), lot number and the words “Contains Sulfites”. There is also an additional information, that is “Classico”, the mention reserved to those wines produced in the area of the most ancient tradition within the production territory of a specific DOC, in this case the commune of Negrar in Valpolicella.
Let’s now turn to the label of Recioto della Valpolicella Classico: mandatory information are the denomination of sale (Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita, Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin), the nominal volume (750 ml), the bottler (“bottled at origin by Brunelli Rita – Negrar di Valpolicella – Italy”), the place of origin (“produced in Italy”), the alcohol by volume (12.5% vol.), the lot number and the words “Contains Sulfites”. Even here it appears the optional wording “Classico”, once again in order to valorize an important wine of a historical region.