How to Read a Wine Label
HOW TO READ A LABEL
The most important thing to identify on a wine label is the wine’s ranking on the ladder of quality. Wines from outside the EEC have a less carefully defined system but the most basic level in a wine produced in the EEC is table wine, vin de table (French), Tafelwein (German) or vino da tavola (Italian). Just at the top of this category, into which most of the world’s basic wines and a few very exciting ones (notably in Italy) fall, are vin de pays (French) and Landwein (German) which are allowed to add some sort of geographical qualification on to their quality ranking.
Above this level wines become known as ‘quality wines’. The two-tier French system is based on Appellation Controlee (AC), which has become a model for quality designation systems almost everywhere else other than Germany, which has its own intricate system. The system lays downne Controllata and works in much the same way — if slightly less effectively. There are disappointing wines that have been awarded the DOC for reasons of local politics, just as some excellent Italian wines have to be labelled simply as vino da tavola because they don’t conform to the traditions enshrined in the DOC regulations. A very special top category, DOCG, has been introduced for a handful of wines whose ‘denomination’ is not only checked (Controllata) but also guaranteed (Garantita)! Other wine regions of the world are stumbling towards similar wine quality designation systems. The South Africans already have their Wines of Origin, the Spaniards their Denomination de Origen.
The Germans superimpose on their geographically inspired labelling another aspect very dear to them – ripeness. The great majority of German wine falls into a category called QbA or Qualitatswein just above Landwein but below their top wines, called QmP or Oualitatswein mit Pradikat. German wines earn a ‘predicate’, a descriptive term appearing on the label, by having a high level of natural sugar when picked. Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese are ‘predicates’, listed here in ascending order of sweetness, and will always appear on the label of a QmP wine. If a wine is made from frozen grapes, the word Eiswein may be added to one of these predicates. Austria has a very similar system because the wine industry there is based on Germanic grapes.