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It seems simple, look at the wine label to get an idea of what to expect after opening the bottle. After all, most of us have become well-versed in label deciphering — calories, fat grams, organic content and so forth. But sometimes with wine, labels can be intimidating.

European wines have a reputation for difficult-to-interpret labels. Unless you lived in the region or were an expert, you’d often need to grab a copy of Oxford Companion just to understand the label.

But this is changing. Many export-minded European wineries are now making labels easier to decode. I recently bought a French wine listing the grape variety, food pairing ideas and even sweetness level — quite refreshing to those of us simply seeking a pleasant bottle of wine for dinner.

To make decoding wine labels easier, I like to think of the bottle as a book. The front label is similar to a book’s edition page: it tells the wine’s name (title), the producer (author), what grapes are used to make the wine (fiction, nonfiction category) and year it was bottled (published). If you look closer, it also offers specifics as to who bottled the wine (publisher), alcohol content (not recommended for children) and even who was the importer (translator). The label offers straightforward information, mainly because it is governed by strict regulations (even the font size of the alcohol percentage).

The back label is like reading the inside flap or back of a book. This is typically a sales pitch to get you to try the wine (or read the book). It may describe what the wine tastes like, recommend food pairings or contain whimsical information about UFOs, a vineyard dog or poetry.

The following are just a few straightforward and easy reads in your local wine shops.


  • 2006 Concha Y Toro Xplorador Chardonnay, Chile (about $10 retail)
  • 2007 Penfolds Rawson’s Retreat Chardonnay, Australia (about $10 retail)
  • 2006 Cline Cellars Zinfandel, California (about $12 retail)


  • 2006 Greg Norman Estates Shiraz, Australia (about $22 retail)
  • 2007 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $28 retail)