By Annette Alvarez-Peters
WE’VE BEEN TOLD you can’t
judge a book by its cover, but what
about a bottle of wine?
While your palate ultimately
decides whether a wine is thumbs
up or thumbs down, the wine’s
cover—that is, its label—can indeed
tell volumes about what’s inside.
Labels come in a variety of
shapes, colors and sizes, from simple printed paper to elaborately
designed engraved glass. They are carefully
crafted to distinguish a producer from the rest
of the pack, as well as impart useful, and
legally required, information about the wine.
Here’s a quick lesson on labels.
Producer or brand name. Whether the
wine is made and bottled by a specific winery
or is a private label, such as Kirkland
Signature™, the name and the logo (if one
exists) will always be on the bottle. Type size
can vary greatly, but the producer’s
name will appear somewhere in
Vintage year. The year references when the grapes were harvested. Most wineries strive to
produce a consistent style of wine
every year. However, due to climate
and other factors, the profile can
vary from vintage to vintage. The
vintage can be an important indicator of the quality of the wine.
For example, the 2010 Bordeaux were
rich and opulent, as the weather conditions
were nearly perfect, whereas the 2013
Bordeaux were light-bodied and diluted due
to rainfall throughout the year.
A vintage year is not mandatory, as in the
case of some Champagne. In France, the
majority of wine bottled is labeled “Non-
Vintage.” Winemakers in Champagne often
blend multiple vintages to maintain a consis-
tent house style every year.
The grape variety. The specific variety
or varieties are allowed to be mentioned on
the front label of wines from new-world
countries, such as the U.S., Australia, New
Zealand, Chile and Argentina. Each region
has regulations determining the minimum
percentage of a specific grape variety required
to appear on the label.
For example, in California, a wine must
contain no less than 75 percent cabernet sauvignon to be labeled cabernet sauvignon.
Wines labeled “Red Table Wine” do not have
a grape variety in the blend that reaches the
75 percent threshold for labeling (the same
applies to white wines). This is also true for
some highly regarded wines that are proprietary blends.
In a number of countries, such as France,
Italy and Spain, the grape variety is often forbidden to appear on the label. The only clue
you are given to the variety is the appellation
or the region. In these countries, regulations
allow only specific grape varietals to be grown
in the particular area. For example, in
Champagne, only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
and Pinot Meunier can be grown in the region.
The region. The region specifies where
the grapes were sourced. A label indicating
“California” allows grapes to be sourced from
anywhere in the state. California law requires
85 percent of the grapes to come from the
specified area. The larger the appellation indicated on a bottle, the greater the area to source
grapes, a practice that is often associated with
less expensive value wines.
Conversely, the smaller the region, the
better the quality. Hence, a wine labeled
“Stags Leap District,” an appellation in the
Napa Valley, can often be of higher quality
than a wine just labeled “Napa Valley.” This
also holds true in most European countries,
such as the Burgundy region of France, where
appellations and specific vineyards are often
designated on the label.
Mandatory statements. In the U.S.,
various government warnings are mandatory
on the back label. The health warning statements must be in the exact wording specified
by the federal government. Also, the statement “Contains Sulfites” must be listed if the
wine contains more than 10 parts per million
of naturally occurring or added sulfites.
The label can point you in the right direction to find the perfect wine. C
Assistant GMM Annette Alvarez-Peters oversees Costco’s wine, spirits and beer program.
The label can help lead
you to the best match
The Costco Connection
Costco features a variety of fine wines from
around the world in most locations.