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How To Read Wine Labels

Don't get fooled by what's on wine labels. We're breaking down common wine terminology you'll find on labels and 6 things you should look for on wine labels.

Remember that time when you saw fancy words on a wine label and bought it because it sounded great, but didn't truly understand what those words meant? Let me tell you, wine labels can be confusing and sometimes misleading. When I was at a liquor store recently, I found a wine labelled “Pinot Noir Cuvée.” I was confused because the word cuvée was associated with sparkling wines in my mind and this wine was clearly not a sparkling wine. I briefly searched up the term to verify that I was correct and indeed I was. However, researching deeper on the term, the meaning is more complex than that. For Champagnes, it means the best grape juice from gently pressing grapes was used to make the wine, which is an indicator of superior quality. For still wines, it can refer to a special blend or selected batch of higher quality wine. The most important thing I found about the term cuvée is that it’s unregulated (except for Champagne), so any winery can slap the word on their label to say that their wine is of superior quality and can charge a higher price for it. This situation got me thinking "how many other words are added to labels that don’t really mean anything?” At the end of the day, it can be misleading and easy to be fooled by the words that can, but not always regulated on a label. So, to help you all out, I will break down some wine terminology to watch out for and 6 things on labels that you should look for. Read what's next and you'll be making better purchasing decisions when you shop for wine


Common Wine Terms To Be Cautious Of

Cuvée – A French word that means tank. As I mentioned, it’s only regulated for Champagne, but unregulated everywhere else. So don’t be caught off guard if a cuvée wine doesn’t have the superior quality you thought it'd have.


Reserve – This term means that the wine is from a good-tasting vintage that’s aged for a longer period. For Italian and Spanish wines, this term is regulated, and you’ll see it as Riserva, Reserva, or Gran Reserva. Reserva (Spanish) wines are aged for at least 3 years with a minimum of 6 months in oak barrels. Gran Reserva (Spanish) wines are aged for a minimum of 5 years with 2 years in oak barrels. Riserva (Italian) wines are aged for a minimum of 2 years. For other countries, Reserve is an unregulated term to indicate their wine is of higher quality, but without it being regulated, it's really just an empty marketing term.


Winemaker’s (or Barrel) Selection – This phrase is complete nonsense. If a winemaker wouldn’t recommend a wine they make, the winery wouldn’t be selling it in the first place.


Finest, Award-winning, or World Class – This is all hot air and doesn’t mean anything. There are so many awards, so if there was a special award the wine received, they would specify it. As long as phrases like this are backed up by evidence, they mean something.

Now that I’ve debunked some wine terminology, let’s get into what things are required to be on labels by law and that can be a better determinant of quality and price.


6 Things To Look For On Wine Labels