Wine-ing: What Does it All Mean?

So you have some uppity friends that have invited you to a wine tasting. Or, perhaps you are the uppity friends inviting others over for a wine tasting. Maybe you just want to impress others because you’re like that. But one thing is for certain: you are GREAT at drinking wine. Awesome! It’s a good skill to have!

In this series, I am going to teach you the basics of how to taste it, how to read labels, what a varietal is, why wine regions matter, terroir, and all sorts of other things that will make you that wine bore that everyone hates. It’s okay though, because at least you’re having fun! That’s what I tell myself, at any rate. There is a mystique that surrounds wine and tasting wine, and I think that is wrong, it is just wine. It’s tasty, it’s interesting, it can be a very expensive hobby, but when it comes to it, it is alcoholic grape juice.

Today we are going to start with the very basics: how to read a wine label. I know I have gone into wine stores and been completely overwhelmed with the number of different bottles. How do you pick one that isn’t disgusting? It can be tricky! That is why labels can be very useful, if you can read the label, you are well on your way of knowing more about the wine and therefore able to make good purchase.

Labels can tell you many things, the type of grapes, the vintage, the winery, the country and the wine region are all typically included on a label. So let’s practice, shall we? We will start off with an easy one. So imagine you picked up a bottle like the one on the left from the shelf. What does it tell you?

First off, what country is it from? It says: “Product of the USA” great, so we know it is American. What type of wine is it? “Cabernet Sauvignon.” What is the vintage? “2008” is probably a good guess. Liberty School is the winery that makes this Cabernet Sauvignon. So, what is Paso Robles? It is a newer wine region in California and, frankly, is a place to watch, they are producing excellent wines. Simple, no? Of course not. Why would it ever be simple? In wines that are New World, we often have the varietal (the type of grape) such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Old World wines do not, they expect you to know what kinds of grapes are in a Beaujolais or Chianti; furthermore, Old World wines tend to be a blend of different grapes. Old World wines include places such as France, Italy and Germany. New World includes Argentina, Australia, Canada and the United States.

So let us try another wine. Typically speaking, the biggest writing or the writing at the top is the name of the wine house. So here that is “Baron de Ley.” Now where could this wine be from? Sadly, it does not have the country written on it. There is another hint though! The label is in Spanish, so that rules out a lot of places. It might be Argentinian, Chilean or Spanish. How does one narrow it down? Does this have the type of grape on the label? It does not, so chances are it is an Old World wine, meaning it’s Spanish! It is a Rioja, which is a blend of grapes from the wine-making region of Rioja. What is the vintage? 2005. So this is a six-year old reserve blend Rioja from Spain. What does “Denominacion de Origen Calificada” mean? That is for a later discussion, but simply put, it means this wine is made in a region recognized by the government as being a wine region. Nearly all countries have some sort of regulations around wine regions, which is supposed to ensure the quality and characteristics of the wine.

The last one that I will walk you through now! Réserve Perrin is probably the name of the wine makers since it is the biggest, you think. Unfortunately, it is actually the name of this particular wine, the wine makers are Perrin & Fils, as you can see near the bottom. Tricky wine makers! This wine is from France, which means it is Old World, so we can safely assume that it will not tell us the type of grapes in the bottle. The region, however gives us a good idea of what kind of wine it is. It is from Côtes du Rhône, and all wines made in this region will have certain similar characteristics. The vintage was on another label on the neck of the bottle, but I’ll tell you it is from 2009.

I am going to give one more label and let you figure out the information about it in the comments and we will see how you do! Reading labels is the first step in understanding what you are buying, and we will learn more about what all of that information means as we go through this series.

I know that this seems very simple to some, but the number of customers that I have had that tell me they had a wine once, that had a bird on it that they want that wine again is shockingly high. There are hundreds of wines with birds on it. If you can tell me the country or the winemaker, we are much closer to finding that bottle you like. My favourite is when people bring in a photo of the label on their cell phone. I could tell you in an instant whether we carry that wine and show you where it is. It is an awesome thing to do. So Persephoneers! Get your cell phones out and start taking photos of the labels of wines you like!

Cin Cin!

16 replies on “Wine-ing: What Does it All Mean?”

I am very excited for this series (I was directed here from the Feb 15 article — wanted to read the first one before reading the second!). I love drinking wine, but I really don’t know how to pick it or what anything on the bottle really means. I can read the labels, but I have no idea what they mean by “notes” or which wines are sweet versus dry, etc. I’m off to read the next installment now!

I’m so excited for this series! If this post is any indication, it’s going to be very interesting. Recently I haven’t been drinking as much wine as I have in the past (with the exception of last Saturday night, which ended terribly) and I’m thinking that these posts will give me massive wine cravings.


Also, ReginaChristina, I’m glad you mentioned in the comments that you’re going to do a piece on Canadian wine, since there are so many of them out there now. My parents live in rural Eastern Ontario, and there have been a surprising number of wineries popping up in their county and surrounding counties over the past few years. I haven’t had any of them yet, but I should try to find a bottle and see how they are!

Ooh! I’m really excited to see more from this series! I’m an American in Australia and everyone here seems to know something about wine–except me. I definitely can identify a tasty bottle though! Here’s to hoping that I’ll be the most educated wine fancier at the next party I attend! Cheers! :D

Ooh, I think I’m going to like this series! I love wine, but I have a hard time picking it out and usually rely on someone else to help me find something I’ll like. I think I’ve got the labels down now! However, I did irritate the person at the grocery store when I asked him for a Riesling in a blue bottle that was served at a relatively large and popular event the store catered. I eventually found it on my own, but from now on I’ll take pictures!

Blasted Church is an awesome winery! I’m from Alberta, so we always got way more Okanagan wines (I plan on dedicating a series or two to Canadian wines regardless of whether American wine books think they are relevant. I care about them!). I just moved to Ottawa and I am dying for some good Okanagan. I know Niagara wines are more well known around the world, but I’m just not nearly as impressed with them. The LCBOs only seem to sell Niagara wines and it makes me very homesick.

oh oh oh if you are in Alberta look for Kung Fu Girl riesling. it’s not Okanagan, it’s Washington, but it has the NEATEST LABEL and also it’s delicious. I miss it muchly.

well at least if you are in Alberta appreciate that you can buy wine after 9pm? I miss the place by my old apartment that was open until after midnight on weekends.
that doesn’t look so great in print…

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