Optional Lingo Often Used on Wine Labels
7 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Shopping for Wine
In addition to the mandatory information included on wine labels (as required by government authorities), all sorts of other words can appear on them. This wine label lingo can be meaningless phrases intended to make you think that you’re getting a special quality wine, or words that provide useful information about what’s in the bottle.
The word vintage followed by a year, or the year listed alone without the word vintage, is the most common optional item on a wine label. Sometimes the vintage appears on the front label, and sometimes it has its own small label above the front label.
The vintage year is the year in which the grapes for a particular wine grew; the wine must have 75 to 100 percent of the grapes of this year, depending on the country of origin. Nonvintage wines are blends of wines whose grapes were harvested in different years.
Generally speaking, what vintage a wine is — that is, whether the grapes grew in a year with perfect weather or whether the grapes were meteorologically challenged — is an issue you need to consider a) only when you buy top quality wines, and b) mainly when those wines come from parts of the world that experience significant variations in weather from year to year — such as many European wine regions.
The term reserve is used to convince you that the wine inside the bottle is special. This trick usually works because the word does have specific meaning and does carry a certain amount of prestige on labels of wines from many other countries:
* In Italy and Spain, the word reserve (or its foreign language equivalent) indicates a wine that has received extra aging at the winery before release. Implicit in the extra aging is the idea that the wine was better than normal and, therefore, worthy of the extra aging. Spain even has degrees of reserve, such as Gran Reserva.
* In France, the use of reserve is not regulated. However, its use is generally consistent with the notion that the wine is better in quality than a given producer’s norm.
In the United States, the word reserve has historically been used in the same sense — as in Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour Private Reserve, the best Cabernet that Beaulieu Vineyards makes. But these days, the word is bandied about so much that it no longer has meaning.
Estate is a genteel word for a wine farm, a combined grape-growing and winemaking operation. The words estate-bottled on a wine label indicate that the company that bottled the wine also grew the grapes and made the wine. In other words, estate-bottled suggests accountability from the vineyard to the winemaking through to the bottling. In many countries, the winery does not necessarily have to own the vineyards, but it has to control the vineyards and perform the vineyard operations.
Sometimes French wine labels carry the words domaine-bottled or château-bottled (or the phrase mis en bouteille au château/au domaine). The concept is the same as estate-bottled, with domaine and château being equivalent to the American term estate.
Some wines in the medium-to-expensive price category — costing about $25 or more — may carry on the label the name of the specific vineyard where the grapes for that wine grew. Sometimes one winery will make two or three different wines that are distinguishable only by the vineyard name on the label. Each wine is unique because the terroir of each vineyard is unique. These single vineyards may or may not be identified by the word vineyard next to the name of the vineyard.