Wine can be intimidating, but breaking down all the information on the label is the place to start. Image: Flickr / TinyTall / CC-By

It used to be that when you wanted a glass of wine, you had very few options. Now, shopping for the best fine wine means sorting through everything from a $3 box of generic wine to an expensive “natural” wine. Sorting through the vocabulary on a bottle is the first step to buying the right wine.

Breaking down a wine label

There are a few basic pieces of information you will find on just about any wine label. Most wine you can purchase in the United States will have the varietal of grape, producer, vintage year, region where the grapes are grown and alcohol content. The “varietal” indicates what type of grape the wine is made from. Vintage year is the year the wine was made. Vintage wine labels do not always contain all this information, but they can be translated easily with a search engine.

The basics of organic wines

“Organic” is a word you will see on the label of just about every type of wine. Red wine and white wine, the two most common types, are also the most common organic wines. There are three types of organic — if a label just says “organic,” the bottler claims it was grown without chemicals. “Certified organic” means somebody has double-checked the organic status of the growing procedures. “USDA certified organic” means the growing meets federal standards.

The natural wine movement

The latest movement in wine is “natural wine” – wine that is made entirely without chemicals. Natural wines can go as far as using only the natural yeasts that float in the air. Natural wines go wrong a lot more often, and if you find a good natural wine, you can only count on other bottles from the same batch to taste the same.

Sulfites in fine wines

On some wines, you will find marketing terms. “No sulfites” means that the wine does not contain any sulfite acids at all — which takes processing. “No added sulfites” mean that additional sulfites were not used to disinfect the winemaking equipment or to prevent oxidation. Ice wine, white wine and sweet dessert wines tend to contain more sulfites than others.

Getting the best fine wines is all about finding a wine that you love. Enjoying wine is all about knowing what you are looking for, and that is the first step to finding your best wine.

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