how to read a wine label

How to Read a Wine Label – USA, French, and Italian

Not all wine labels are the same. Once you understand how to interpret what you see on the bottle’s label, the easier it will be to select a wine.

how to read a wine label

According to Wine Folly, wines are typically labeled by grape variety, region, or made-up name, in other words a name the winery has given to the wine. Examples of a made-up name might be “Crush” or “Apothic Red” for instance.

Grape Variety Labeling

Every country has their own minimum requirements for the percentage of a variety of wine in their bottles so you may not be getting a 100% bottle of any particular variety. Here are the requirements currently:

  • 75% USA (except for Oregon which requires 90%)
  • 80% Argentina
  • 85% Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, United Kingdom

Grape Region Labeling

When a wine is labeled by its region this means by the terrior it was grown in, such as Rioja, Bordeaux, Chianti, Chablis or Sancerre. Usually the labeling by region applies to wine from old world countries such as France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. The reason for this is due to how the varieties of wine were grown together in vineyards which then were used to blend together to make the wine.

Some Wines are Labeled by Name

Typically when a wine is named in a unique way it is made up or thought up by the winery itself and may be an unusual blend that the wine producer invented. Often times these wines do not fit into the rules of a region and to learn more about this wine blend you will need to visit the winery’s website to get the specifics.

These general things to look for will hopefully help you to begin to see the wine bottles you are buying a little more closely and take into consideration details you may have overlooked in the past. And, as always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us. We are here to help.


How to Read a California Wine Label

Things to look for when reading a California wine label:

  • The top of the label will list the winery or producer of that wine
  • The next thing will be listed is the name of the wine, often times a name that is made up to help you remember the wine or have it stand out
  • The year or vintage the wine was produced
  • Then if there is a special designation for this wine, it will list it here, such as Estate which means that 100% of the grapes were grown, crushed, fermented and bottled on the property
  • Next is the vineyard and only appears if 95% of the grapes came from a single vineyard
  • Then you’ll see the wine type such as Cabernet Sauvignon
  • The last two items typically on a California wine label are the appellation or region where the grapes came from (it has to be 85% of the grapes have to come from that region) example, Napa Valley, and the alcohol level such as 14.5%. Alcohol levels percentages can vary within as much as 1.5%

Hopefully this information will help you the next time you are reaching for a bottle of California wine for your enjoyment. As always, reach out to us if you have any further questions as we are eager to help you on your journey to understand and appreciate wine.

Sources: 1, 2



How to Read a French Wine Label

One thing to note about wine labels on French wine is they are categorized by region vs. grape variety. What you will need to pay close attention to when you first look at the label is the name of the region where the wine originates.


French wine has 3 primary classification tiers are:

  • AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée)
  • IGP (Indication Geographique Protégée) VDP (Vin de Pays)
  • Vin de France


AOP = French wine from a regulated region with its own rules for the grapes, conditions and quality of those grapes, think Bordeaux. Translated to English it means Protected Destination of Origin. Generally speaking, the more specific the region is, the higher the rank in the wine.

IGP or VDP = A larger area with less regulations than a wine from the AOP. For reference, IGP is the same as PGI (Protected Geographical Indication).

Vin de France = Wine can originate from anywhere in France or be a blend of regions. Often, wines that are of this classification are labeled by grape variety.


Simply put here are some items you will find on a French wine label:

  • The label of how the wine is classified – example; winery’s best wine
  • Information on bottling such as bottled at the winery
  • Winery name or address
  • The wine appellation (region where grapes are from in this wine)
  • The year it was made (vintage)
  • Owner of the winery
  • Alcohol content and volume
  • Producer of wine


We hope this information will help you to have a better understanding of what to look for and some terminology to help you determine what you are purchasing when selecting a French wine.

Sources: 1, 2


How to Read an Italian Wine Label

Here is some information to help you when reading an Italian wine label.


Wines from Italy are labeled in one of three ways:

  • Variety as in “Montepulciano d’Abruzzo” or “Sagrantino di Montefalco”
  • Region or sub-region, such as “Chianti”
  • Name such as “Sassicaia” (sass-ah-ki-yah)


At first glance, you will look to see what the name of the wine is, what region it’s from such as Tuscany, as well as the classification and producer.



To make it easy, most of the time, if you see a di or a d’ it is probably a grape. Since there are more than 350 official grape varieties in Italy it’s hard to know all of them.



A classification will be listed after the region’s name on an Italian wine label. This means if the wine is Chianti, for instance, after the word Chianti you will see the region or sub-region listed right next to it.



A good reminder to know if an Italian wine is labeled by its name is that the name is never next to the wine classification. This is usually due to producers of that wine using both Italian and non-Italian origin grapes in that wine.


Categories of Italian Wine

  • Vino da Tavola (VdT) – generic table wine; no specifications required
  • Vino a Indicazione Geografica (IGT) – accommodates growers with more flexibility; higher quality than VdT category wine
  • Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
  • Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)


The two you may see most often are DOC or DOCG. To put it simply, DOC means controlled area of designation and DOCG, controlled area of designation, guaranteed.  DOC wines are specific to an area they are grown in and follow certain standards. DOCG wines follow more stringent standards. DOCG wines have a paper band along the neck of a bottle with a serial number for authenticity; some DOC wines have this paper band as well.


Hopefully this helps you feel more prepared when you head to the wine shop to pick out an Italian wine. If you need more clarification, please let us know. We’re here to help you.

Sourcess: 1, 2, 3


Written by Michelle Griffis aka the Nutmeg Nose for MWG