If you want to know about a product before purchasing, it seems simple enough, just read the label.
At least it should seem simple considering many of us have become adept at deciphering labels of every other product on the retail shelf, checking calorie, fat and fiber content and ingredients. But when it comes to wine, particularly when you just want to know how the wine will taste, it isn’t that simple.
The required information on the label really doesn’t give us much useful information other than alcohol content, size of the bottle (which is rather obvious) and the importer’s address, which is helpful only if you intend to send them a letter. So where does it leave the consumer as we search out the actual taste of a wine?
Front labels generally contain strictly regulated, straightforward information (even the size of the type is regulated) and include the country of origin, grape variety, the name of the winery and alcohol content.
To learn more, take a quick look at the back label. In addition to the required government warnings about wine consumption during pregnancy, machinery use and overall health, you may be surprised how many producers are genuinely interested in telling you a little more. It can vary from background about the vineyard, vintage conditions to even food pairing advice. Look for labels that describe the level of sweetness and flavors inside the bottle.
But if you come across a bottle that doesn’t contain any of this information, there are clues to taste.
First, familiarize yourself with a few key grapes and regions.
Grapes, like apples and oranges, excel in certain growing regions of the world. It’s not often you see oranges growing in Maine, the same is true for cabernet sauvignon in Germany. Put to memory a few of the benchmark regions such as New Zealand sauvignon blanc, California zinfandel, Bordeaux and Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, Italian pinot grigio, Burgundy pinot noir and German Riesling.
If you’re seeking sweet or dry wines, there are clues here, too. Other than dessert wines, ports, sauternes, sherry and a few others, most table wines are dry. If you are looking for slightly sweet wines look for German Rieslings, American white zinfandel and some French gewurztraminers.
So armed with a little knowledge, buying a bottle doesn’t have to be a game of taste roulette.