“Ha,” you might scoff to yourself when perusing the aisles at your favorite wine shop, “I’m glad that wine labels from my country don’t have anything to hide, and aren’t hard to read. Like those crazy German wine labels that the 1WineDude talked about. I scoff at those!“
Hang on there, scoffer, and pay attention, lest you become a suckah. Just because U.S. wine labels don’t use foreign words with 27 consonants in them doesn’t mean that they are simple. Not to worry, though – Dude here is gonna hook up UP!
First, we should talk about the stuff that has to (by law) appear on a wine label if that wine is sold in the U.S.:
- Brand: Usually the same as the producer, but not always. It’s almost always prominent text in big font on the label, and the brand is almost always an intellectual property of the producer.
- Varietal or Type: The label needs to state if you’re making fruit wine, for example, or mead. For grape wine, you can use the grape varietal name: the wine needs to be made from at least 75% of the stated varietal (except in OR, where it’s 90%).. Some generic names are still legally permitted, such as “sake” and “vermouth.”
- Bottler & Importer: Name & address of who bottled the wine, and int he case of imported wines who imported it.
- Alcohol: This is ALWAYS on the label. Yes, it is. Sometimes the font is just so small that you can’t read, but it IS there. I promise.
- Sulfite & Health warnings: Required by law (for sulfites, this is if the wine exceeds 10 ppm, which is about 99.99999% of the wines in the world) but are almost entirely useless. Don’t get me started on the whole sulfite thing.
- Net Contents: Usually stated in ml. As in 750 ml (the volume of a standard wine bottle).
The following are usually not required but you frequently see them on quality wines:
- Appelation: Where the grapes originated. For most geogrpahic descriptions on a wine label, 75% of the grapes used in the wine must have come from there. The more specific the geography, the higher the minimum percentage: 85% for AVAs, for example.
- Vintage: The year the grapes were harvested. 95% of the wine must have been harvested & crushed that year (though I’ve no idea how you’d prove that…).
- Vineyard name: If used, 95% of the grapes must have been grown there.
And you thought there was nothing to U.S. wine labels….
But wait… it gets even trickier!
The more perceptive among you might have noticed that the back label of wine bottles usually have a statement by the name of the producer such as “Produced By” or “Cellared By”. There is a reason why they are different: they have legal definitions:
- Cellared By, Selected By or Vinted By: The producer crushed less than 10% of the grapes.
- Made By: They crushed 10% of the grapes.
- Produced By: They crushed 75% of the grapes.
- Grown, Produced and Bottled By: 100% of the grapes come from land owned or controlled by the winery and the winery crushed, fermented, aged & bottled the wine in a “continuous process.”
- Estate Bottled: Pretty much the same as “Grown, Produced and Bottled By” but the winery is located in an AVA (the same one where the grapes were located).
Not so simple, eh Mr. & Mrs. Scoffer?
And finally, the following terms look impressive on a label, but have no legal meaning whatsoever:
- Special Selection
- Old Vines
For more detailed information on wine labels, check out WinePros.org. Proceed with knowledge… and caution.