How to Tell Good Wine, Just from the Label

Regions, Varieties and Labels oh my!

Here in Australia, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to wines, with well over 2,000 wineries across the country; the majority of which are small, family-owned wineries, alongside some large companies, producing good Australian wine for the rest of the world.

With 60 wine regions and over 100 GIs (Geographic Indications), South Australia and New South Wales have some of the country’s finest wine producers in the country. The biggest question then presents itself… how do you pick out a good wine if you aren’t able to taste or smell it before hand? The answer is in the label.

Wine labels

Wine labels

The most obvious part of picking out a new wine is looking at all the different labels. Years ago, labels were boring, colourless, and non-inviting but, today, they are works of art themselves, catching your attention and begging you to pick them up and learn more about the secrets contained within the bottle.

Elements of a wine label

Learning to understand what you’re reading can be a bit confusing, but once you’re past the mandatory information you can get into the tasty part.

  • Wine type – wine, chardonnay, shiraz, sparkling wine etc.
  • Lot Identification – or batch number, in an alpha-numeric code.
  • Supplier/Vineyard Name and Address, with Geographical Indication.
  • Mandatory Advisory Statements – Allergens and Sulphites.
  • Statement of Alcohol Content.
  • Standard Drink Statement – how many standard alcoholic drinks are in the bottle.
  • Pregnancy Warning.
  • Country of Origin Statement.
  • Volume Statement.

Most wines will also have a description of what notes or “flavours” can be found when drinking the wine. Reading these can give you an idea as to whether you will enjoy the wine. If you’re new to wines, it’s best to start with a nice gentle wine such as a white or rose as these tend to be sweet and not a punch to the tastebuds like reds can be.

Wine flavours

Wine flavours

With most wines, the rear label contains some very important clues about what to expect from the wine. This is usually a description of what fruits and flavours you might experience along with information about aging, if it was imported, and what region it came from. Often if a wine has received any awards, it will be mentioned on the label, don’t forget to do an online search for the bottle and read any reviews.

Wine Enthusiast Magazine has an article that fully discusses all the different regions and their flavour profiles, we’ve provided a summary for you.

Red wine

Red wine has four different styles to tantalise your taste buds. First off, we have the big, bold, full-bodied sunshine-soaked Shiraz and the Coonawarra Cabernet which vary in their dark fruit, earthy flavours, and acidity levels. Here in the Hunter Valley, we have some top Shiraz’s balancing between medium and full-bodied wines balanced out by savory spices, florals, and red fruits.

Next up are the cooler climate Shiraz, coastal Cabernets and South Australian Grenache with their spicy, savory flavours and medium-bodied taste. If you’re up to something that’s more bright, bouncy, approachable, and light-bodied you should consider a cool-climate Pinot Noir with its fresh red berry flavour or maybe one with more complex spice and game.

White wine

White wine is great for those who are new to wine or stronger flavours in general. Thirst-quenching, light to medium-bodied Riesling, Sauvignon Blancs, and Sauvignon-Semillon blends leaving wispy yet crispy flavours dancing in your mouth. If you’re looking at a Chardonnay or Hunter Valley Semillon, expect a textural and mouth-filling wine that is very food-friendly and does vary from medium to full-bodied depending on the region.

There are of course so many more styles that are being created from hybrids to simply finding a nice little microclimate that changes the entire flavour profile. Grape vines thriving in our diverse soils and microclimates leading to new adventures and experiences with each new bottle.

Tips for understanding wine labels

Tips for understanding wine labels

Marketview Liquor recommends that when reading the labels, the more information provided about the region, valley, and grapes, the better the wine will be. Pay special attention to the description where it lists what notes and aromas you should expect from the wine, such as the “rich tropical fruit overtones and a hint of butterscotch from the oak barrel ageing” of the Peterson House Chardonnay.

Going by its age might sound like a good idea, but cheaper wines, under $20, are generally intended to be enjoyed young. If you want to learn more about the wine, do an online search for the region and year’s weather. Fires, drought, extreme cold or heat, or even too much rain can alter the quality and flavour of the season’s harvest.

When in doubt, stick with what you know

Stick with flavours or smells you know you like and, when you find a wine style you like, keep returning to it. Venture out to bottles from different regions and wineries in between familiar bottles, until you’re ready to try even more styles and flavours.

When you go into a store just remember how much you’re wanting to spend, the flavours you like, and that when in doubt you can ask someone for recommendations. Many people who work at a bottle shop or cellar door have experience with wine and can give you recommendations and suggest different pairings or a wine to try next time.

One of the best ways to pick a new wine is to stand in front of the section you like, find the top three most interesting labels, read their back stories, and go with the one that feels the most “you” today. Chances are, you’ll love it.

Personalise your own wine bottles

Personalise your own wine bottles

Wine Design specialises in personalised wine bottle gifts with customised wine labelling ranging from corporate and personalised gifts, to wedding wines and sporting clubs. We can even customise bottle labels for your event and fundraising opportunities, just choose from our categories and our wine and packaging choices. Contact us today on 1300 798 098 or through our contact form – just click here.