Tip number one when buying wine? Reading the label
How many times have you bought a bottle of wine because you liked the design of its label and then you have regretted it?
At a time when we are driven by the power of images and we usually don’t read further than 140 characters, label designers can trick and disappoint us, especially if that bottle was a present. Because buying a wine without reading its characteristics is like signing a contract without reading the small print.
The front and back labels of a wine, and this includes their texts, are the sign of identity of a brand or new creation. On the one hand, they show the facts about the ellaboration process and characteristics. On the other hand, they contain small sentences and descriptions that appeal to the subjective field of emotions hiding magic words or wine tasting and pairing advises.
Now, which information should a label contain in order to help us understand the wine we are buying?
This is normally the name that identifies the wine. In most of the cases these are names that look to convay the characteristics and sensations of a wine. For instance, the name Finca Manzanos appeals to the caring and relevance that it’s given to the vineyards the grapes of these wines come from.
The appellation gives us information about the geographical origin and the Council that regulates a wine. This is very important because depending on the category of the appellation the wine will be subjected to different quality controls. If a wine is Qualified Designation of Origin, such as DOCa Rioja, it means that it has gone through stricter and more exhaustive controls than one from a regular denomination. In Spain there are only two Qualified Designations of Origin, including DOCa Rioja.
Vintage or Year of Harvesting
The year of the harvesting is an important information as the quality of the grape can also vary each year depending on the weather. Furthermore, if you are buying a Young Wine it is recommended to consume during that year, not five years after. Shopping tip: The fact that the bottle you’ve got in front of you is from 2006 it doesn’t mean you are purchasing a Gran Reserva.
Winery or Bottling Group
This explains the main information about the bottling group or winery that produced this wine. For instance, in a Finca Manzanos it will say ‘Bottled by Bodegas Manzanos in Azagra.’ Therefore, if you come across a wine brand which you didn’t know but you recognize the winery that has elaborated it as you already tried another wine they produce, you might have more chances to make the right choice.
In each place of the world, depending on the area a different grape variety is used. This gives character to each wine. In the case of DOCa Rioja, the red grapes that are used are mainly Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo. For white grapes the main varieties are Viura and Chardonnay, although there are several varieties such as White Tempranillo. Shopping tip: if a Merlot is being sold under the denomination DOCa Rioja, there is something wrong there.
This indicates the percentage of alcohol that the wine has and it gives us clues about its body. Normally the graduation oscillates between an 11% and a 14%. Shopping tip: remember you are buying wine, not liqueur.
Once the information a label carries has been understood, you will be able to also know what you are looking for. We leave the rest to your palate’s preferences.