how to read a wine label
Updated: Feb 13, 2018
I thought about cancelling my live wine 101 tonight. I still might. Today was the hardest day I have had in a very long time emotionally. I had to make the decision to put my four year old pit bull, Martin, to sleep. The last week has been agonizing watching him lose weight, not eat and even worse, knowing that the vet was just as frustrated as I was in not being able to figure out what was wrong with him. Nothing made sense except that something was very wrong with him internally. So, today I am a mess and the only reason I am still thinking about doing the live wine 101 is because I need something to distract me mentally. This blog is doing a good job of that at the moment.
I thought that for todays blog, I was going to focus on more of a 101 element. I hope this helps! PS Kylie Jenner had her baby. The news is making a big deal about it, so I figured I should probably continue to pass along the news.
So, with that being said, lets cover some simple wine basics:
READING THE LABEL 101:
There are really two key things to take note of, location AND year aka vintage.
THE LOCATION: when staring at the rows of labels, look for a label with a more specific 'location' like Santa Lucia Highlands, Russian River, Monterey etc.
Let me break it down:
Central Coast- the grapes come from literally anywhere on the central coast.
California- the grapes come from anywhere in the state, usually they are from places like Bakersfield and Modesto etc where they are super cheap per ton.
Russian River: grapes come from this region in California
Paso Robles: grapes come from this region in California
Paso Robles, Adelaida Distrct: grapes come from this specific spot WITHIN a region aka Paso Robles. So for instance, the Rosedale of Bakersfield. The 'downtown' of Houston.
North Coast: grapes are from somewhere up North along the coast.
Washington: grapes are from anywhere in the state.
Walla Walla: grapes are from this specific region IN Washington.
Are you getting it?
SO, role play for a second, you are looking at three Pinot Noirs that are all $10, which one do you chose?
The answer is C. Russian River. You will be getting the best bang for your buck by choosing the SPECIFIC region over grapes that could possibly be coming from Bakersfield. On that note, if you like yourself some California Pinot Noir and you love the bottle you always buy, you do you and keep right on doing so. Wine is about what YOU like. I am just trying to help you get the most for your money.
NOW, THE VINTAGE or the YEAR that is on the bottle:
This may not seem like much, BUT it is important. The year aka vintage on the bottle is the year that the grapes were harvested. So for astandard white wine you find at the grocery store etc you want as new as possible. Meaning, we are in 2018 so if you see a 2014, most likely that is a huge indicator of how long it has been sitting on the shelf or even at a restaurant you are at. For instance, yesterday I went to Vons and bought two bottles of rose, both were the same brand. When I got home, I realized that one was 2015 and one was 2016 meaning that the 2015 had been sitting on the shelf for the last two years since the 2016 was released a year ago. Try to go for the 'soonest' vintage at the store and at restaurants.
Not to complicate this more, but certain wines are made to age.
I hope this helps break that down with this list:
Rose- DRINK as soon as you can and the soonest vintage. We are now getting into 2017 rose wines.
Chardonnay- Unless you are drinking some big expensive Chardonnay from France or California (typically $50+) drink as soon as you can. (we are getting into 2016/2017's)
Sauvignon Blanc- Drink as soon as you can (we are getting into 2016/2017's)
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris- Drink as soon as you can (we are getting into 2016/2017's)
Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Red Blends- Unless you are drinking some big expensive Pinot Noir from France or California (typically $50+) drink as soon as you can. (we are getting into 2015's and SOME 2016's)
Cabernet Sauvignon- Unless you are drinking some big expensive Cabernet from France or California (typically $70+) drink as soon as you can. (we are getting into 2015s)
This is a 101 so I hope it give you a little better insight into what you are looking at when you are picking out a bottle of wine. So, sure, look for a catchy label, but know how to break it down based on vintage/year and where it is saying the wine comes from. That way you get the best bang for your buck and a more likely chance you will love what you are buying without knowing anything about it!