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What is in a U.S. wine label?

Wine labels are often fun to look at, but can be daunting, too, if you are actually trying to interpret what they say.

The truth of the matter is, the label often undergoes more scrutiny than what is actually inside the bottle!

There are usually two labels on each bottle with different information required on each. Let's take a look at what is on each label and what it means to you.

Front label

The U.S. government requires certain information on the front label of each bottle of wine. As you will notice, there is a small label and a large label. Since there is no definition about which label should be what size, many wine makers will make the front label, the one with the government required details, small, while making the back label, the one that can be used for logo designs, extremely large.

Are you puzzled? That's not what you see when you walk into a wine shop, is it! That's because the larger back label, the one with the interesting logos, is the one that ends up facing out on the store shelves. This is a little maneuver to get the customer to see what they, and the sellers, want them to see.

So what exactly is required on the front label? Since the U.S. is the most stringent with regards to wine labels, many of the wine makers adhere to the U.S. requirements of labeling bottles of wine. The front label must state the basics of the bottle; alcohol content, the type of wine, name of the bottler, the volumetric size usually expressed in milliliters, the phrase 'Contains Sulfites' and last, but not least, the government warning about the possible health issues related to alcohol.

Back label

There is nothing that is absolutely required on the back label, although some of the more familiar wording usually appears along with the name of the wine and some catchy graphics.

The word 'reserve' is usually added to the back label if there was additional aging time at the factory after bottling the wine. Likewise, the 'estate' designation usually means the winery where the grapes were grown, is the same one that bottled the wine.

The back label has become mostly for display and is reserved for certain selling points the wine-makers wish to emphasize. This can include the different make-ups of the wine, if the grapes were crushed by foot like in the old days, if it has won any awards, or even if there is a limited amount of cases that can be purchased. Not all of these facts are required but they can be beneficial for the wine makers in the selling of their wine.

Learn by enjoying

The best way to learn to read wine labels and to fully understand the wine that is in the bottle is to go out and pick up a few bottles and actually take a good look at them. Once you have the bottles in front of you, try and identify the different parts that are required. Don't be afraid to dive more into each bottle by searching out the different wineries, bottling locations and even doing some research on the types of grapes and percentages that make up each classification of wine.

Get a group of friends together, pop open a few bottles of wine and make the research fun. There are many things to learn about wine through the labeling process and you can make it fun by sampling and trying them out on your own.