Special Designations on Wine Labels

In recent postings we've explored the information on U.S. wine labels.  We've seen that the labels are required to tell us about the type of wine, the AVA or location where it was produced, the vintage or year the grapes were harvested, the alcohol content, and if the wine contains sulfites as a preservative.  Then there are the other 'special designations' that appear on wine labels that are not regulated.

But first, we as consumers must realize that the label of any product is the primary selling tool. And hence, the label is going to contain some amount of marketing. And this comes in varying degrees.  On one end of the spectrum you will see very sophisticated labels on wines. These may done in fancy script with dark colors and may include metallic gold or silver trim.  This simple yet sophisticated label is certainly using marketing techniques to convince you, in subtle ways, that it is an outstanding wine. 

On the other end of the spectrum there are trendy labels with fancy artwork and cute or clever names. Again, these wines are looking to be exciting to a particular segment of wine buying market.

Then there are all the other labels out there that contain words such as "Reserve," "Private Reserve," "Vintner's Reserve," "Barrel Select," "Vintner's Blend," "Old Vine," and "Cellar Select."  These are just some of the marketing terms that are used on wine labels and, in the U.S., are not regulated.   Mostly they have little to no meaning.

Yes, wine makers do have 'Reserve' wines that are special, usually smaller production wines of very high quality. But, the odds of truly finding a bottle of 'Reserve' wine on a store shelf are low.  These are usually only sold directly through the winery or in high-end wine stores.  And you'll certainly be paying a hefty premium for a 'Reserve' wine.

And 'Old Vine' wines, often Zinfandels, may come from 'old' vines that produce wines with great depth of character. But, without any regulation on the term, the age of the vines is difficult if not impossible to truly know.  So, the vines may be 20 years old or they may be 100 years old. 

All the other terms are just marketing terms that get used on wine labels to try to get you to part with your money.  So, as always, buyer beware!  And start paying close attention to these terms on wine labels when you are shopping. You will find that some wine producers only make "Vintner's Reserve" wines and they are selling these 'special' wines in grocery stores and big box stores for $10 a bottle. Don't be fooled - become educated by reading, tasting and by visiting wineries.  Then you'll begin to truly find great wines without being swayed by the label.  Cheers!