Useful tips on reading wine labels
While it may seem difficult – the reading of wine labels is relatively easy. The trick is to understand its elements, one by one, and then putting all the information together to transform into a technical sheet of the wine itself. The labelling process varies from country to country, but its basis is pretty much universal.
Some wines are labelled by grape variety (which can be mono-variety or a wine made with more than one grape), others are labelled by region and many are known by name. In the back label there is also much information about the wine, where it was made, its composition and technical details – which helps out when picking a wine to drink, as it is information that will give some intel as to what to expect from it taste-wise.
Wines labelled by region
Wines like Bordeaux, Chablis, Chianti and Rioja are labelled according to their region – as such they are also known as “vin de terroir”. This style of labelling is used in mostly old world wine countries like France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Regional labelling likely came from a time when many different varieties grew together in the same vineyards and were blended together into wine.
What does regional wine tell us? Each region dictates what grapes can be used in the regional wine. So, in order to know what’s inside one of these regionally labelled wines, you’ll want to do a little research. For example, one of the most popular grapes grown in Portugal – specifically in the Algarve region – is Negra Mole (a grape known for its fruity and rich flavour, which makes for extraordinarily expressive wines).
Depending on the grape, the tasting notes and depth of the wine will vary, so it is important to note from which grape (or blend of grapes) the wine was made. From the crispy fruit flavours of a Chardonnay to the cherry, roses and licorice of Nebbiolo, and everything in between, the grape variety is the first factor in determining how a wine tastes. Certain notes are sweeter, some are more acidic or lighter and they may grow better in certain climates, and some are better suited to specific fermentation processes.
While fermenting, the aromas and flavours are developed and familiar scents and finishes are created. The ageing is also a factor in the flavour of the wine – as the where and how a wine is aged affects how it will feel later on. Wines that are aged in oak barrels have a more earthy flavour as well as increase tannins and a more complex structure.
The alcohol level presented – usually in the back label – can be widely varied in percentage and also has a say in the flavour of the wine. Depending on the alcohol content of the wine, a subtle impression of sweetness is imparted on the palate. Alcohol in wine also brings a hint of bitterness similar to that found in tonic water – which can be more or less perceptible depending on how powerful the wine is. Besides the impact felt in the flavour, the alcohol also has an effect on wine’s texture (also known as “mouthfeel”) and can change how it is perceived on the palate – smooth or chalky, thin or thick.
Last but not least – the producer or Estate in which the wine is made. Presented often in the front label, it is a piece of information that gives us the knowledge of where and by whom the wine was made. Each producer brings their own expertise and uniqueness to their products, which in itself tells us a lot about the wine (specially the quality of it).
A producer may be a family, a business or an individual wine enthusiast. With this information on the label and the knowledge that it brings us we can tell if our wine is made on a larger scale or if it is made with a different care and quality.
Algarve’s oldest Wine Estate
With an eye on tradition and another on the future, Quinta dos Vales Wine Estate keeps on producing top-quality wine with grapes rich in flavour and aroma. Thanks to the region’s terroir, climate, grape varieties and the knowledge of the oenology team, the wines are a must-try for all palates.
Ge to know the Estate through a guided tour and a commented wine tasting and explore the best the region has to offer – either it be gastronomically, culturally or with fun activities available all year long.