Wine Talk

Snooth User: Tisalynn

Help a beginner learning about labels

Posted by Tisalynn, Jul 26, 2010.

I know that the words 'produced', 'vinted', 'made', and 'bottled' are all legally different.  I understand a little about what each one means.

What I don't understand yet is how each relates to the general quality of the wine in the bottle.  Is a wine 'produced and bottled' by a winery usually better that one 'vinted and bottled'?   And is it a bad sign if it just says 'bottled by'?

I'm sure there aren't any etched-in-stone rules, there never are in wine, but what is the guideline when it comes to production terms on labels?


Reply by MilanB, Jul 26, 2010.

Good wine is produced and bottled by winery itself. After bottling it is put back to cellars - for couple of weeks or months (whites or simple reds) or even for years (big reds) before it is released to market.

Cheaper wine travels sometimes to destination in big tanks and is bottled at destination by different company - typical example is cheap wine from New world shipped to Europe.

Reply by dmcker, Jul 26, 2010.

MilanB, you seem to be negating the  role of negociants, especially within France. This subject deserves a little more discussion, but unfortunately I don't have time at the moment, so hopefully someone else will wade in...

Reply by dmcker, Jul 26, 2010.

Before leaving, for now, here's a little reading on the subject, from Answers.comFood&Wine, and the Wine Doctor.


Reply by dmcker, Jul 26, 2010.

Perhaps the role of negociants would be a good subject for a Snooth article.

And Philip and Mark, please bring on the post-edit editing capability!

Reply by GregT, Jul 27, 2010.

"What I don't understand yet is how each relates to the general quality of the wine in the bottle.  Is a wine 'produced and bottled' by a winery usually better that one 'vinted and bottled'? "


Dmucker answered already and called for the edit function so I need to support him on that!  EDIT please!

Back to wine.  "Produced and bottled" might mean its better than something else but if they have crap vines and don't know what they're doing, you end up with worse wine than you do if you buy from the guy who sourced some grapes.  There's not a hard and fast rule and beware of anyone who tries to tell you that one thing is ALWAYS better than another.

Good wine might be released after many years or it might be released right away.  As D pointed out, there are plenty of people who blend different wines to come up with something better than the individual parts.

And as far as travelling in tanks - that isn't always bad.  It's cheaper than shipping bottles and for inexpensive wine, makes sense.  Besides, how would the folks in Burgundy have enough wine to sell if they didn't blend in some syrah from the Rhone under the table?

Reply by Carly Wray, Jul 27, 2010.

This is certainly good content that would fit in with our Wine 101 series, especially since we're in the middle of discussing labels: Understanding Wine Labels, PT 1, Understanding Wine Labels, PT 2

Reply by dmcker, Jul 27, 2010.

Which only talk about what's on the back label. Need a piece or three on front labels, too...

Reply by Carly Wray, Jul 27, 2010.

They're on horizon, as well. Broken down by country.

Reply by jcjrogers, Jul 28, 2010.

I highly recommend the book Windows on the World Complete Winecourse by Kevin Zraly.  Zraly doesn't approach from the label per se, but explains from the standpoint of the varietal, country, region, etc.  Honestly, I don't know how anybody could explain the front labels of wine bottles-- starting from the label.  There are just too many variations and too many rules, especially when you dig down into crus, certification/regulation (AOC, DOC(G), etc.).  For instance, a grand cru for one varietal means one thing, while a grand cru for a different varietal means something else.  Sometimes the fact that the chateau is listed gives an indication of quality.  Sometimes it does not.  There are some generalities you can learn by starting with the label, for instance if the label says "Burgundy" and the wine is red, it's almost certainly pinot noir, while if it is white, it is almost certainly chardonnay (I'm assuming a legitimate wine.  "Burgundy" listed on a Mogen David bottle is meaningless).  Also, "Bordeaux" listed on the bottle means a blend consisting mainly of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc.  "Left bank" means it's heavy on the cab sauv., while "right bank" means it's heavy on the merlot. 

My point is, though you can begin to learn some basics by starting with the label, to really gain an understanding, you have to start from the ground up-- literally.


Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 30, 2010.

@jcjrogers: The meanings of the different "crus" aren't related to varietals but to appellations, and they are confusing, even within Bordeaux.  And a "real" Burgundy ought to say Bourgogne somewhere, since that's the French name for the region. (Gallo's Hearty Burgundy, a staple of my '60s California childhood, had no Burgundian grapes in it.) If it says "Bourgogne passe-tout-grains" it's got some Gamay. And, to go back to the beginning, different countries have different requirements for produced, vinted, bottled, etc.  Given divided ownership of vineyards, long-term sourcing arrangements between certain wineries and independent growers, the broad statement about growers bottling their own juice is overbroad.  Sorry there's no easy answer here. 

I love Garys' Vineyard in Monterey county, as an example.  It's owend by two guys named Gary, both of whom make wine from the grapes, and they sell the grapes to others as well.  Everyone pulls the levers a little differently--fermented bevs are the original engineered product--they taste differently.  Even the blocks within the vineyard can have an effect, as can the timing in picking.

As for those front labels, I'm with jcjrogers on that: Who can make sense of 'em when you can't even tell the little castles apart?  Join my movement to ban the little castles!

So, Tisalynn, just try lots of wine, write your impressions here on Snooth, and learn as you go. 


Reply by jcjrogers, Jul 31, 2010.

“Burgundy” is much more likely to be seen on the back label than front, though you might see something like, “A white table wine of Burgundy” on the front label.  One is more likely to see “Bourgogne”, “Nuits”, “Chablis”, “Meursault”, “Beaune”, etc. on the front.  

Varietals are affected in “cru” designations.  For instance, the highest quality chardonnay or pinot noir from Burgundy would be labeled “grand cru”.  Behind the grand cru quality would be “premier cru”.  A top of the line gamay (Beaujolais) would just be labeled “cru”.  In Bordeaux, one would likely see “premier cru” or “premier grand cru” denoting “1st growth” and typically highest quality/price.  One might also see Cru Bourgeois, identifying Medoc chateaux that were classified later than the original 1855 classification.       

Though I’ve made wine for 6 or 7 years, admittedly, I’m just a newbie when it comes to knowledge and appreciation of wine.  I got into the home winemaking hobby because I enjoyed drinking wine.  However, I realized several years later that though I understood the science of winemaking, I really lacked knowledge and appreciation of wine.  Hence, I began my own education.  Anyway my point is, with all the variables out there, it would be very hard to learn about labels, taking labels and working backwards.  I think it makes more sense to learn about countries, regions, appellations, classifications, varietals, etc., thereby giving one an understanding of wine and leaving him/her with the ability to decipher labels.  Unless you’re in the business or willing to put a lot of time in, you aren’t going to memorize every chateau or producer.  However, you can learn enough to get a general understanding and identify good references to fall back on, when confronted with something you don’t know off the top of your head.    

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