How to read a wine label: Part Five (Spanish Wines)

I’ve shared tips on how to decipher wine labels from various regions like Chile, France, New Zealand and the United States. This week, let’s talk Spain!

Spain (Classified as Old World)

Grape Varieties

Spain’s premier red wine region is  Rioja and was the first region in Spain to be christened as Denominación de Origen Calificada—in 1991. Tempranillo is the main grape of Rioja. Here’s a link to an interactive map to Spain’s wine growing regions.

Wine Regulation (systems of defining and regulating wine growing regions and practices)

  • DOC or DOCa – Denominacion de Origen Calificada (highest classification)
  • DO – Denominacion de Orgien
  • Vino de Mesa (lowest classification)

DO wines have additional regulations for aging:

Joven: No Cask aging (replaced Sin Crianza)

Crianza: Red = 2 years of age, 6 months in oakspanish-wine-label
White = 1 year of age, 6 months in oak

Reserva: Red= 3 years of age, 1 in oak
White = 2 years of age, 6 months in oak

Gran Reserva: Red= 5 years of age, two in oak
White= 4 years of age, 6 months in oak

Aging Terms for Non-DO wines:

  • Noble – 12 Months
  • Anejo – 24 Months
  • Viejo – 36 Months

Although I’ve spent time studying Spanish wines, I admit that when I’m shopping for wine, I rarely pick up a bottle from Spain. Do you have a recommendation?

How to read a wine label: Part Four (Chilean Wines)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sharing tips on how to examine wine labels from different regions. First with US wines, next France, then New Zealand. This week’s region was requested by a fellow grape geek, John. Let’s discuss Chilean wines!

Chilean Wines (Classified as New World)sena

Red grapes account for approximately 73% of the total acreage in Chile

Wine Regulation (systems of defining & regulating wine growing regions and practices)

  • Established in 1995, instituted the 75% rule: vintage, varietal, and denomination of origin must, if listed on the bottle, comprise a minimum 75% of the blend.  (although many wineries observe an 85% minimum for all three categories, in order to comply with EU standards for export).
  • Only permitted varietals may be used, and hybrid grapes are forbidden.
  • Must show a minimum alcohol content of 11.5%.
  • Wines labeled “Reserva” and “Reserva Especial” must have a minimum 12% abv, and wines labeled “Reserva Privada” and “Gran Reserva” require a minimum 12.5% abv.
  • In addition, “Reserva Especial” and “Gran Reserva” wines spend mandatory time in oak.

*In 2011, the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture amended wine law to support three new geographic terms: Costa, Entre Cordilleras, and Andes.  On labels, producers may now append one of the pre-existing DOs with one of these three new appellations, which signify the proximity of a vineyard to the coast (“Costa”) or to the mountains. Entre Cordilleras – – “between mountains”- –  describes the valley areas between the coastal range and the Andes (3/4 of Chilean wine grapes are grown here). In order for a wine to qualify for one of the new designations, at least 85% of the grapes must be harvested in the appropriate region.

From north to south, the regional Denominations of Origin (DOs) of Chile are Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcagua, the Valle Central (Central Valley), and Sur (the Southern Regions).

Atacama and Coquimbo DOs

  • Northernmost winegrowing region in Chile (requires irrigation)
  • Pisco and table grape production dominate both regions but in Coquimbo’s northern valleys (Elqui and Limari) are developing a reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Aconcagua DO

  • Subregions: Aconcagua Valley (warm climate) with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grape varieties
  • Casablanca and San Antonio are located along the coast (cool climate)  with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grape varieties.

Fun fact:One of the premier reds of Chile, Errázuriz’s “Seña” (a Bordeaux-style blend), beat both Château Lafite and Château Margaux (remember those names from my  earlier post?) in the 2004 Berlin Tasting… a true testament of the quality of Chilean wines!.

Central Valley DO

Chile’s oldest and most established winemaking region

Cabernet Sauvignon.  Over 50% of the region’s more than 10,000 hectares are devoted to the grape, followed by Merlot, Chardonnay and Carmenère.Purple Angel

Subregions: Maipo Valley, Rapel Valley, Curicó, and Maule Valley

Puente Alto region produces some of Chile’s most premium red wines such as Concha y Toro’s “Don Melchor” and Errazuriz’s “Vinedo Chadwick” Cabernet Sauvignon varietal wines.

Sur DO

Itata, Bío Bío Valleys produce País and Muscat de Alexandria grape varietals.

Malleco Valley is a tiny region, with just a few hectares of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Was this helpful? Grab a Chilean wine and share your thoughts with me!

How to read a wine label: Part Three

In week one, we discussed wine labels from the United States. Week two, French wine labels. This week, I’m going back to the New World to share tips on New Zealand wines.

New Zealand is the world’s easternmost and southernmost winemaking country (cool climate).

New Zealand North Island Regions

Northland, Auckland, Waikato/Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Wellington (Wairarapa)

Grapes: Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc


New Zealand South Island Regions

Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury, Central Otago

Grapes: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir

Marlborough produces over half of the entire country’s wine, with nearly 10,000 ha of Sauvignon Blanc.

You may have noticed bottles of Pinot Noir from Central Otago popping up in your wine shops. Central Otago is the world’s southernmost region and is acclaimed for producing some of the best Pinot Noirs that the New World has to offer.  So grab a bottle next time you see one!

New Zealand Regulations:

  • Declaration of vintage and varietal is optional
  • The wine must contain at least 85% of the named grape variety
  • If there are two or more varietals the total must be 85% and they have to be listed in
  • descending order
  • No laws governing enrichment, acidification, pruning, yields, or irrigation techniques

Have you uncorked a wine from New Zealand lately? I’d love to know your thoughts!

How to read a wine label: Part Two

Week one of my “How to read a wine label” series, I shared tips on how to read a wine label from the United States. This week, let’s focus on France! I won’t include Champagne region in this post since I’ve covered it in a previous blog post.

Wine Label Bordeaux - Image source:
Image source:

France (Classified as Old World)

Not labeled by grape variety, but by region.

Bordeaux  Region

White Grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc

Red Grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc

Loire Region                           

White Grapes:  Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Melon de Bourgone

Red Grapes:  Cabernet Franc

Northern Rhone Regionwine-map-france

White Grapes: Viognier, Rousanne, Marsanne

Red Grapes:  Syrah

Southern Rhone Region

White Grapes: Viognier, Rousanne

Red Grapes:  Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault,  Petite Sirah, Carignan

Other Southern French Regions include Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence and Corsica, Southwestern France and Dordogne.

Burgundy Region                    Wine Label Burgundy

White Grapes: Chardonnay and Aligote

Red Grapes: Pinot Noir and Gamay

The higher quality wines are labeled as Grand Cru and Premier Cru.

Wine Regulation (systems of defining and regulating wine growing regions and practices)

  • Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) – most regulations/highest classification
  • Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP) – between table wine and premium
  • Vin de France (Table Wine)
  • (if before 2009, AOP was called AOC and there was another category called Vin Delimite de Quality Superieure)

What’s your favorite wines from France? Did you learn anything new about it after reading this post?

Next week, I’ll share tips on how to read an Italian wine label.

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