After passing the first level examination with the Court of Master Sommeliers, I put together a series of tips on how to read wine labels. The classification systems are regulated by the government and do change slightly through the years but the tips that I’m providing should still be helpful!
Part One: USA Wine Labels.
USA (classified as New World)
- A general rule is: the more specific the label, the better the quality of wine.
- Proprietary names = highest quality of wines (examples: Dominus, Opus One and Rubicon).
Wine Regulation (systems of defining & regulating wine growing regions and practices)
Percentage of Grapes Required for Labeling by Appellation
- If labeled by country, state, or county: 75% of the grapes must come from that region
- If labeled by AVA (American Viticultural Area – like Napa Valley, Columbia Valley, Willamette Valley, Finger Lakes District): 85% must come from that area
- If labeled with a single vineyard: 95% must come from that vineyard
Vintage (year printed on the label)
- For wines labeled with an AVA, a minimum 95% must come from the stated vintage;
- For wines labeled with a state or county, the minimum is relaxed to 85%.
Meritage: term used in US wine industry that indicates a premium blend in which no grape accounts for more than 90% of the wine. Meritage wines can be red or white, but must be produced from Bordaux varietals (Bordeaux varietals = Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc).
What’s your favorite wines from the United States? Did you learn anything new about it after reading this post?
Next week, I’ll share tips on how to read a French wine label.