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Wine 201 – How to read a Wine Label

The next two questions are related, and are a little more complex than the “Who?” and “When?” questions. There are two variables to take into consideration in regard to each question.

What kind of wine is it? Varietals: A wine varietal is the type of wine you are drinking. Cabernet Sauvignon , Pinot Noir, Gamay Beaujolais, Meritage, Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, Pinot Grigio are just but a sampling of the different varietals. These wines have specific “recipes” that require a specific type of grape in order to make said varietal. Riesling grapes make Rieslings, viognier grapes make Viognier, etc, etc.

Buuuuut…sometimes there are other qualifiers on these varietals. For example, not only are there rieslings, but there are Gray Rieslings, Emerald Rieslings, and Sylvaner Rieslings. Sometimes these mean nothing, but often these are different varietals or even blended wines that are trying to improve sales by categorizing themselves with similar, more popular wines. If there is a qualifier on the varietal, read up on it before purchasing.

Aside from Varietals, you also have Generic wines – are wines based off of Appellation wines, but grown outside of the Appellation area….a California Burgandy, or an Australian Chianti are good examples. Although prevalent 30 or so years ago, you are seeing less and less of these wines around. But you should be aware of them.

You also have proprietary wines, which are often blends of varieties. For example, I had a wine recently that was a detailed blend of the following grapes: 7.1% Syrah, 11.78% Ruby Cabernet, 12.4% Pinotage, 45.33% Cinsault, 9.39% Grenache and 13.99% Cabernet Sauvignon. Since a wine can’t be called a varietal after the amount of grapes in a wine fall beneath a certain percentage, a winery can (and does) make up it’s own proprietary name. If a name sounds unfamiliar, research it before buying it.