HOW TO READ AN ITALIAN WINE LABEL

VINHOOD Editors

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Who hasn’t wanted to impress friends with a good bottle of wine at a dinner party?

But how many times have you found yourself not knowing which bottle to choose and not understanding a word uttered by the wine store assistant, as well as being baffled by the information on the label. 

You love wine and consider yourself a wine enthusiast, but often you are influenced by the bottle packaging or the label graphics or, at times, even the price (equating expensive with high quality – but that’s not always the case). 

We have all – at least once in our life – used these factors for selecting a wine. However, these are not the main ones we should be focusing on. 

The visual design certainly plays a determining role. Marketing experts understand this well and tend to use certain color schemes depending on the type of wine. If you look closer, you’ll see that the packaging for moscato wines mainly features white and gold colors, while white wines favor blue, and black is used for vintage wines. In addition, the graphic design is important for catching a buyer’s eye and creating a favorable impression immediately. 

But when we talk about the “label”, we’re not just referring to the visual design but primarily to the product information, i.e.: product name, bottler, year, sales denomination, name, origin, volume, allergens and alcohol percentage. 

What does this mean exactly? Here is a short guide on how to read this information. 

 

READING AN ITALIAN WINE LABEL: SHORT GUIDE

PRODUCT NAME: this shows the name of the wine and is positioned in the center area or upper part of the front label. The name usually refers to the wine family or the region where the grapes are grown. In some cases, you might also find a totally invented name.

 

BOTTLER: it is mandatory to show the company that has bottled the wine on the label and, namely, name, company name, the Municipality and the Member State or using the ICQRF code (Italian Department of the Inspectorate for quality monitoring and fraud repression of agrifood products – one of the primary European agrifood monitoring agencies). In the case the bottling company is the same as the producer, precise wording will be used, such as Entirely produced and bottled by…”. 

 

YEAR: another essential piece of information to consider when choosing a bottle of wine is, yes, the year. It refers to the year the grapes were harvested. Why is this important? Because each year the harvest is different due to weather and climate that may be hot, rainy and more humid, etc. and therefore it will influence wine quality. Showing the harvest year is not mandatory for spumante wines and not even sparkling or dessert wines.

 

SALES DENOMINATION: one of the most important pieces of information regards a wine’s origin. This information tells us about the geographical area of origin of the wine and also gives us an idea of its quality. The acronyms DOP (Protected Designation of Origin), IGP (Protected Geographical Designation), DOC Registered Designation of Origin) and IGT (Typical Geographical Designation) guarantee Italian agrifood heritage and they are shown precisely for repressing imitation products. So, when we see these acronyms, we know the wine has been produced following precise product specifications guaranteeing product quality. 

Sometimes the classico, superiore and riserva or the grape variety is mentioned (when not included in the name wording). Only spumante wines may not use the wording Protected Designation of Origin or Registered and Guaranteed Designation of Origin. 

 

Origin: The European Union allows the origin to be shown and, in the respect, the wording “Produced in Italy “ is always required to be specified.

 

INDICATION OF VOLUME: This shows the volume amount of wine in the bottle. It may be stated in milliliters, centiliters or liters (the conventional abbreviations ml, cl and l are allowed) and they are always followed by the letter “e” indicating “estimate”.

 

ALLERGENS: according to prevailing legislation, bottles that contain more than 10 mg of sulfites per liter are required to state the amount on the label. We know that a part of the sulfites is produced naturally during alcoholic fermentation in the transition from grape juice to wine. But these are not sufficient to guarantee good preservation and, for this reason, they are added artificially. Legislation considers these substances “allergens”, even if a reaction to them will not cause anaphylactic shock or other “serious” effects typical of allergens. Since 2012, also traces of eggs and milk are required to be stated.

 

ALCOHOL PERCENTAGE: another piece of important information regards stating the percentage of pure alcohol per 100 ml of the wine in question. The value falls between 9 and 15.

 

LOT: is shown using the letter “L”. It is a number pre-established by the bottler for identifying the batch of bottles packaged in a restricted period and under almost identical conditions. In practice, it is the tool used for tracing the product.

 

OTHER INFORMATION ON THE LABEL: THE TERMS ORGANIC AND BIODYNAMIC 

In recent years, we are seeing an increasing number of organic and biodynamic wines on wine store and supermarket shelves. Today, legislation exists laying down the rules for organic growing which requires producers – and therefore also wine producers – to indicate the wording “organic wine” on the label and the EU organic logo may also be reproduced on the label, showing the certification details and the competent certifying body. Regarding biodynamic wine, there is still no legislation in place in Europe. 

 

Now that you have this information at your fingertips, you’ll certainly be able to choose a wine with greater confidence and familiarity that best suits your requirements and tastes and those of your friends. Otherwise, you can always contact us for some extra advice and #Character taking our test.

You’ll be sure to make a good impression! 

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