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Wine Labeling: How to Pick a Winner

If you’re a member of Lot18, it’s likely you’re developing a good idea of what wine types and styles you like. But is there more to look for on the label, or in the case of Lot18 wines, the description, that will help you choose a winning wine?

Following are a few factors to help you choose a home-run wine for your taste buds.

Variety – Varieties are listed on the label with New World wines (U.S., Australia, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand), whereas the region is listed on labels from the Old World (France, Spain, Italy).

If you’re digging Sauvignon Blanc and have already tried many from New Zealand and Chile, explore regions from the Old World famous for this racy variety: Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume from the Loire Valley, and Bordeaux, where it’s often blended with Semillon.

For great, concise information on varieties check out Berry Brothers & Rudd’s website.  For more in-depth information, check out Oz Clarke’s book: “Grapes & Wines: A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties and Flavours.”

Location – The more specific the locale, the more special the wine. A wine that states “California” on the label will be a blend from several California regions or will hail from a region that doesn’t have its own named appellation. A wine listing “Napa Valley” on the label indicates that the majority of grapes come from this region. A wine from “Rutherford” comes from an even smaller region within Napa Valley. Prepare your wallet: as with real estate, the more specific the location, the greater the cost.

Vintage – You don’t need to be a wine expert or carry a vintage chart to make smart vintage choices; just keep a few rules in mind. Refreshing, dry whites and light to medium-bodied reds are meant to be drunk young - look for recent vintages. Fuller-bodied whites and tannic reds often need a little time in bottle to mature and mellow – look for slightly older vintages. Special wines can withstand the test of time and their flavors and aromas evolve in interesting ways; now it’s time to consult the vintage chart.

Alcohol – Quick science lesson: As you probably learned in 4th grade, photosynthesis creates sugars in plants, and since the production of wine is about turning grape sugars into alcohol, it stands to reason that the warmer the climate, the greater the sugars, the higher the alcohol.

Higher alcohol wines tend to be fruitier and fuller bodied. Lower alcohol wines tend to be lighter bodied with subtler fruit flavors. Both have their place depending on the food you’re pairing them with or the palate you’re trying to please.

Most wines fall between 8 and 14 percent alcohol. Wines at 15 percent can often taste too hot and out of balance.

A journey in wine begins with the label. With the next wine you taste, take a hard look at the details on the label, especially if you have strong feelings about the wine; when you’re shopping again, look for wines with similar characteristics, or the opposite, as the case may be. There’s a whole world of wine waiting for you to explore, and it’s as much about reading as it is drinking. Enjoy!