Deciphering the bottle: A look at the back label

I was checking out other wino blogs when I cam across these guys They review wines by telling you what the back label says vs. what they reckoned was in the glass. I love it! It reminded me of having to look between the lines when trying to find a wine using the back label. A skill i’ve acquired over the past few years.
Of course not everyone subjects themselves to wine examinations or easily gets lost in wine blogs/magazines for hours. Everyone does in fact enjoy good ol’ glass of vino at the end or middle (no judgement) of the day. So how does one decipher those cleverly phrased reviews or labels? Let me share with you a few tricks I’ve learnt along the way….

Tip #1 – Ask someone on the floor 

please note the following may contain hints of cleverly disguised wine shop employee rant

Honestly, this can go either way. They might be just starting out OR they might be ex-bartenders that can’t be bothered being up till 4am anymore OR even they might get their kicks selling grog and thats why they work for almost nothing and listen to the same top 40 playlist everyday. Either way good wine shops usually provide some staff training so your bound to get some interesting titbits.

Sure you might have equipped yourself with the latest wine reviewers yay or nay list but the shop employees should know what’s on the floor, where it is, and what’s good. Also, running around with your little book makes you look like a doodle. There… I said it.

Although everyones tastes are different they should be able to find you a wine to crack open and enjoy. The trick is to use key words to express what you’re after…

Dry, sweet, buttery/crisp for a Chardonnay, tannic/soft for reds, fruity, or cheap and cheery (a personal favourite of mine) are all basic ways to express what you want. Cooking lemon chicken with sage? Perfect! Mention what you got brewing in the kitchen and it makes the process a whole lot easier. Especially since these people are most likely not only winos but foodies too (they sorta go hand in hand).

If the staff look weary and aren’t too confident, step away. You my friend are on your own… But have no fear here are a few helpful hints

Tip #2 – Typically high alcohol =’s drier, low alcohol =’s sweeter 

I used the word typically for a reason. It’s not an every time thing some regions have the ability to produce drier wines with a low alcohol level (i.e German Kabinett Riesling) but i’ve use this indicator for years and its a winner.

You see the during the fermentation process, sugars are broken down and converted by yeast into alcohol. Basically the winemaker can choose to stop the fermentation before all the sugar is gone using sulphur dioxide making a sweeter wine or let the process run its course and create a dry wine. A rule of thumb is 10% or lower is sweeter, 10-12% medium dry to off dry, 12% and over dry. Key word being rule of thumb.

Tip #3 – Flavours described on the label may indicate style

– Shopping for a Riesling? Mineral, stoney, and steely notes are usually reserved for drier styles.

– Fancy a big buttery Chardonnay? Look for words like nutty, creamy, or toast. Creamy/buttery indicate a healthy dose of malolacic   fermentation (the process of converting tart-tasting malic acids into softer-tasting lactic acids) and toast/nuttiness indicate barrel fermentation. These guys are big players in those rich buttery Australian Chardonnays I love with creamy chicken or pork dishes.

– High acid white to pair with your seafood bonanza? Keep an eye out for the citrus family like lemon, limes, and grapefruit. These indicate wines with high levels of acid with pair lovely with those buttery scallops.

Tip #4 – Start learning your geography

If you’re really keen on getting down with the French, Italian,or Spanish guys unfortunately your going to have to learn what grows where. Regions grow specific varieties and varieties are seldom found on the label. Think of it like a mini geography quiz and your prize is delicious wine! To help you out i’ve found this quite detailed list of wine regions and a list of wine varieties. Happy Hunting.

There you are four tips to find yourself something delicious to have for dinner, lunch, brunch, breakfast, or midnight snack.
As I rule I try to never buy the same wine twice. It’s helps me really see what’s out there and fine tunes my “picking out a bottle” skills.



2 thoughts on “Deciphering the bottle: A look at the back label

  1. this is fun! I have a question … what is the flavor of a particular red wine that I enjoy so much? PASSION of Portugal? besides the price of course – but how would you describe the flavor so that I might be able to find another one like it? what flavors are in this wine? berries? vanilla? not sure … I like many red wines under $20? its ok if you don’t reply, I am just curious … but this is delicious to my taste buds … I have also travelled to Italy, Spain and enjoyed many red dry wines! just curious

    • Hard to say what the precise flavour in red wine you gravitate towards. Flavour in red wine can range from kirsch to forest floor to cedar.
      What are things you enjoy eating? Or even better yet smelling? I love the smell of the forest floor after the rain, I think this is why I love mature Pinot Noir. They say that 75-90% of what you taste comes from you sense of
      As for the price I think everyone (and everyone’s wallet) likes wines under $20. If you enjoy Passion try Muga Rsv. Rioja 2009 $13.95. Available at your local LCBO it features the same grape variety (Tinta Roritz or Tempranillo) but in the neighbouring country of Spain.

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