How to read a wine label, expert reveals

How to read a wine label: Expert reveals what to look out for to get the highest quality tipple – from the alcohol content to its region

  • Many of us will admit to being swayed by a wine’s impressive logo and fancy font
  • Information on wine label can help you understand quality and character of wine
  • FEMAIL speaks to Lukasz Kolodziejczyk who reveals how to decipher a wine label

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but does the same apply to a bottle of wine? 

While many of us will admit to being swayed by an impressive logo and swirling font, the information on a wine label can actually help you understand the quality and character of the plonk, once you know what all the confusing jargon actually means.

You don’t have to be a connoisseur; from the vintage year to the region, knowing a few key things to look out for will help ensure the next bottle of wine you pick up from your local supermarket doesn’t end up poured down the sink.

Here, FEMAIL speaks to Lukasz Kolodziejczyk, head of fine wine at Cult Wines, who outlines how to decipher a wine label.

While many of us will admit to being swayed by an impressive logo and swirling font, the information on a wine label can actually help you understand the quality and character of the plonk, once you know what all the confusing jargon actually means (stock image)


This is arguably the most important piece of information on a wine label, simply because a producer’s reputation will have a clear link to the quality of the wine they produce. 

Iconic producers with a well-established reputation can charge a higher price point based on this alone. 

Other producers position themselves as recognisable household brands, and their name provides familiarity and reassurance for buyers.

I believe German producers of Pinot Noir such as Wingnut Julg, Fritz Keller and Shelter Winery offer authentic wines with great price and high quality. 


Premium French wines will usually display their classification as a matter of tradition. 

This is the wine body-approved mark of quality, based on the classification system applicable to the region the wine comes from. 

For example, the Saint Emilion Classification contains three levels – Premier Grand Cru Classe ‘A’, Premier Grand Cru Classe ‘B’ and Grand Cru Classe. 

In Burgundy meanwhile, wines may fall under ‘grand cru’ or ‘premier cru’ status.


This helps to distinguish between the wines within a producer’s range. 

Some producers, particularly well-known everyday brands found on supermarket shelves, will simply use the grape variety such as ‘Chardonnay’ or ‘Merlot’. 

Others will give their wines specific names that help to tell a brand story or family history.

Familia Torres, once described as one of Spain’s most innovative and influential winemakers, makes fantastic wines across the range that cost as little as £10. They can be found on Waitrose Cellar, and have delicious, textured tastes. 

I would say German Riesling is one of those grapes which come in many styles, from dry to lusciously sweet. Growers to look for are Weingut Wittmann, Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm and Keller Wein.


Note that the grape variety isn’t always stated on the label; many producers will use the region instead. 

However, this can be as broad as ‘South Australia’, which covers more than 50 per cent of the wine made in the entire country, as opposed to a single vineyard. 

To get the highest quality wine, look out for specific destinations of where the grapes were grown.

New Zealand is a country renowned for its quality wine. They have a fantastic climate and terroir for producing top Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. 


The vintage conveys the year in which the grapes were harvested and can tell you a lot about the wine, if you are familiar with vintage variations. 

When it comes to drinking vintage wine, generally speaking, three to five years of age works best for wine, as this will give it time to settle in the bottle. 

Examples that show this include 2017 red Burgundies and 2015 Bordeaux.

In the event that there is no year on the label, or the term ‘NV’ or ‘non-vintage’ is present, it means that grapes from multiple vintages have been used to help create the wine. 

As a rule of thumb, non-vintage wines are usually ready for drinking on release, unlikely to improve with age, and cost less than vintage wines. 


A wine’s alcohol by volume (ABV) can actually reveal a lot about the wine, although this information is usually displayed on the back of a bottle.  

Many wine regions in Europe only allow their highest quality wines to have a 13.5% ABV and above, while in America, some ABVs can be very high going up to 17%. 

Many high ABV wines are made from riper grapes and have more fruit forward flavours, which can give an indication of how alcoholic the wine may taste.

The alcohol content doesn’t really indicate quality; you can find wines with moderate 12.5% alcohol which are not so good. It’s more about harmony between the wine flavour and the aroma, followed by proportioned harmony between acidity, alcohol and tannins.  


Estate-bottled wine: This means the wine was grown, produced and bottled on one estate, and tend to be lower quality.

Reserve: This term might give a wine some added appeal, but it doesn’t mean anything official. That said, some smaller producers use it to indicate their top-tier wines.

Old vines: Or in French, ‘Vielles Vins’. Using grapes from older vines usually results in more concentrated flavours in a wine, but again, there are no rules to say exactly how old a vine must be in order for a producer to use this term on a label – they could range from 15 to 115 years!

With these basic terms, you’re in a good position to pick the right wine. Don’t just rely on the label, however attractive it may be – get used to looking at the details and you’ll quickly be making informed and appetising choices. 

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