What's in a Wine Label?

What's in a Wine Label?

The array of labels on display at any wine shop, or even in a single wine aisle, can be dizzying. The different design elements, languages, and pieces of information conveyed are intended to provide some idea of what the bottles will taste like. They also play a crucial role in wine legal compliance. But often times they confuse more than they inform. I’m sure most of us have chosen a bottle purely based on a cool name or graphic. Here, we will break down a classic American label to show what can be gleaned from a label when you are out shopping for your next tasty bottle. 



Winery Name
In Bordeaux, France, this usually begins with the word Château. In Burgundy, you will usually see the word Domaine used, often followed by the name of the family who used to own it or currently owns it. In Italy, you may see Fattoria, which means farm, or Castello, which means castle. Here, as is common naming practice in Napa Valley, the family name of the founder and owner, Shafer, is used as the name of the winery. 



Growing Region, or American Viticultural Area

Around the world, the general term for winegrowing regions is appellations. In South Africa these are called wards and districts, in New Zealand they are called Geographical Indications. Here in the U.S. we call them American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs for short, and they are overseen by a bureau in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The first one officially recognized by the bureau was Augusta AVA, in Missouri, in 1980. Napa Valley soon followed in 1981. 

Subregion, or Sub-AVA

Around the world, wine regions are often divided into subregions. Each subregion should be subject to slightly different weather or physical growing conditions that produce small, but distinct. differences in the character of the wine. On this label, Stags Leap District is a sub-AVA of Napa Valley. It is known for a moderate climate with very rocky soils and hilly terrain, producing deep, structured Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. 

Proprietary Name, or Fantasy Name

This is very common in Spain, Tuscany, and California, where prestigious wines do not necessarily come from a single listed vineyard or the winery wants to use something other than the vineyard name on the label. With the right marketing and press, these wines come to symbolize the best the winery has to offer. Hillside Select comes from fourteen different tiny parcels on the Shafer estate property. 

Name and Address Statement

This is where the winery is located, not necessarily where the grapes are from, which is the winegrowing region. This part of the label is important for compliance purposes, as the winery must state which parts of the growing, winemaking, and ageing processes were completed at its property to ensure the proper taxes get paid by the proper parties. Wine tax rules are complex, but are not intrinsically interesting. 

Alcohol Content

This can be a consideration if we are looking specifically for a lighter or a more robust wine. Wines with higher alcohol content tend to be fuller in body, more fruit-forward, and more dense, although these rules don’t always hold true. Ultimately, this component of the label is also subject to complicated disclosure requirements and is primarily used for tax purposes. 

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