What's on a wine label?

Wine labels are important. They're the winemakers calling card and the image on the bottle is often the first thing we see when we walk into a wine shop. If we like the design on the front of a bottle, we'll often end up buying it. And if the image sticks in our mind it can help us keep coming back and buying the wine again.

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But design questions aside, wine labels are also important because they contain a host of useful information which is there to help and guide us as consumers.

One of the most important things that a wine label can tell us is where the wine is from. So here in Spain if a wine is from a specific Denominación de Origen, or D.O. for short, it will say so on the wine label, usually in a prominent place.

To some extent, that's a sign of quality and something that the winemaker wants to shout about. That said, in parts of Spain some producers are choosing to opt out of the denomination rules because they find them too restrictive or too generic. So, in places like Rioja for example look out for new wines which have the words Vinos de pueblo or Viñedos singulars on the label. That tells you if a wine is from a specific village within the region or even from a specific vineyard plot.

Another key aspect of wine labels is allergy information. Under EU law if wines contain sulphates it has to say so on the label in case consumers are allergic. This is quite a contentious issue in wine circles. Wine makers can add them to their wines at the bottling stage to act as a preservative. Sulphates can help keep the wines fresh and prevent oxidation. But even if a winemaker hasn't added any sulphates to their wines, sulphates are produced naturally during the fermentation process. And it's likely that the naturally occurring sulphates will still exceed the minimum 10 milligrams per litre declaration threshold. So, winemakers will have to say so on the label.

Other information we're going to find on the bottle is the size of the bottle. A normal-sized wine bottle is 75 centilitres or 750 millilitres (if you’re lucky enough to be drinking a magnum it'll be 150 centilitres!). There are several theories about why wine bottles are 75cl, but our favourite is that before wine bottles were made industrially, they were made by hand using glassblowers. And 75 centilitres was more or less the volume of a typical glass-blower's lungs. So that was the size that he would generally make a bottle with one single puff.

Something else you're always going to find on a wine label is alcohol content. This is expressed in a percentage and is rounded up. In other words, if a wine is tested in a laboratory and has an alcohol content of 12.37% (for example) that will be rounded up to 12.5%. Which is what it will say on the label.

But don't get too hung up about alcohol! What I mean by that is don't worry too much if you see wines with 14% or even 15% alcohol on the label. Remember wine is made by the naturally occurring sugars in grapes being converted into alcohol. So, it's only natural that in hotter climates, grapes will ripen more and more of the sugars in the grapes will turn into alcohol. So, the potential alcohol level in wines from hotter climates will be that much higher. The winemaker's skill is trying to ensure that alcohol doesn't dominate the wine. So, what he or she is looking for in their wines is perfect balance between alcohol, acidity, sugar, and tannins.

But more of that in another article. We hope this article has given you a little bit more information to help you navigate Spanish wine labels and understand better what you're looking at.

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