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The Wine Identikit: reading a label without losing a single word!

Let’s delve into the world of labels with some insight and a small, useful guide so as not to miss any of the important information

Knowing how to read a label is not always easy and intuitive, especially if you consider all the mandatory and non-mandatory information that often fills those few square centimetres of paper on a bottle. The legislator certainly has the noble intention of protecting and informing the consumer, but in doing so has had to include a whole series of regulations, which often make a label laborious to understand. Here are a few tips to help you find your way around and become a black belt when it comes to wine legislation.

The necessary information

Among the mandatory indications are the appellations (for example Moscato di Scanzo Docg, Castelli Romani Doc), based on a specific production specification. These rules are translated into various acronyms:

  • DOCG (designation of controlled and guaranteed origin), 
  • DOC (designation of controlled origin)
  • IGT (typical Geographical Indication)
  • Table wine

These categories include both still wines (white, red, rosé) and sparkling wines, but for the latter additional information, such as dosage (Brut, Brut Nature, Dry, etc.), is given on the label, which deserves a detailed explanation. 

Table wine, at the base of the quality pyramid, is subject to less restrictive legal obligations than other appellations. These wines, in fact, are not tied to a circumscribed territorial area and are therefore not subject to any specifications. Nevertheless, any visionary winemaker can place his wines in this less restrictive category, in order to experiment with new grape varieties and different winemaking approaches, as Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta did in the late 1960s with that Table Wine from Cabernet Sauvignon: and the Sassicaia was born. All the rest is history. 

Following the quality rise, IGT is an appellation awarded to wines made from specific grapes, but from broad areas. This label is included in the EU’s IGP label. DOC, on the other hand, requires that production takes place in specific areas indicated on the label, while DOCG has strict specifications, within a very restricted area, and often the sub-area is also indicated (e.g., Valtellina Superiore DOCG Inferno). There are also a series of additional indications mandated by individual specifications such as:

  • Classico (oldest production area, such as Chianti Classico DOCG)
  • Superiore (alcoholic content at least 0.5% higher than the wine without this wording, like Barbera d’Alba Superiore DOC)
  • Riserva (wine that has undergone a longer ageing period, like Salice Salentino Doc Riserva), as well as the variety of the grape, if not already included in the designation of origin.
    Both DOC and DOCG are included in the European designation of origin. 

Another indication is the country of production, written compulsorily in the same language, to which one or more translations may be added, but this is fully optional.

The name of the bottler then needs to be added, bearing in mind that it does not always match the winegrower, and the alcoholic content, which indicates the percentage of ethyl alcohol present in 100 ml of wine (e.g., 12.5% vol).

The size of the bottle also must be specified (e.g., 750 ml), with the estimate symbol ‘e’ also added, indicating that the quantity of wine contained may vary within certain minimum limits set by law. The production lot, which allows traceability of the bottle, and the wording ‘contains sulphites‘, substances that are added to wine for its preservation, but that may cause intolerances or allergies, are also to be included. 

Optional information

Then there is a whole series of indications that may appear on the label at the producer’s discretion, such as the organoleptic characteristics, the recommended serving temperature, vinification, pairing and how to preserve the bottle. Putting mandatory and optional information together, one can understand why some labels are written in Lilliputian characters and why more and more producers are resorting to the QR code for optional information.

Read also:

A tour of the Castelli Romani, where the wines of the emperors became reality
Moscato di Scanzo, the world’s unique red pearl from Bergamo
Valtellina, tradition, novelties, and great red wines. 
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