I am often flabbergasted at the “wine-speak” on so many labels. This is not a complete listing, just a shot over the bow at the most misused. Here is a go at cutting through the B.S.
American Wine Descriptors
So, just what exactly are they reserving? Many wineries have you thinking this is the winemaker’s personal stash. Real meaning: this is the stuff we charge you more for, just because we can. Wineries are famous for including additional descriptors on this one, like “select reserve”, “private reserve”, or “premium reserve”.
OK, would you really believe this one, if you saw it on a bottle? I have tasted wine from only one winery that uses this designation and fulfills the expectation: Pride Mountain Vineyards.
This is roughly what it says. The winery makes this wine from vineyards they own and control. The thought process here is, if the winemaker cares about the quality of the wine, he/she will watch over and tend to the quality of the fruit. While many of these wineries do produce very high quality wines, don’t count on it. There is a huge difference between a knowledgeable vineyard manager vs. a savvy winemaker.
All fruit used in the making of this wine came from one specific named vineyard. This CAN be a tool in selecting quality wines. If you track where the fruit originates in the wines you drink and you notice you consistently enjoy wines made from a specific vineyard… you just hit the veritable wine-o jackpot.
All fruit used in the making of this wine came from one row, or section of one specific named vineyard. See Single Vineyard.
This is the point of origin, such as the Napa Valley, Dry Creek, or Paso Robles (etc.) designation you see on the label. So guess what, only 85% of the fruit must come from that area to be referenced on the label. Here is another good one… by law in the U.S., if it says Cabernet Sauvignon on the label – only 75% of the wine must be made from that variety. The only restriction for the balance is, it must come from the same AVA. The possibilities stagger the mind.
This applies when somebody paid the Meritage Association to use the name. For red wines, it represents a wine blended from any two or more of the following grape varieties: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec or Carmenere. Absolutely no implication of quality.
For red wines, it represents a wine blended from any two or more of the following grape varieties: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec or Carmenere. Absolutely no implication of quality. Geez, does that sound familiar? See Meritage.
European Wine Descriptors
A vineyard of notable quality, or specific terroir. Nothing to do with the quality of the wine. Single Cru – see Single Vineyard above.
A vineyard producing an unusually high quality of fruit. Has a more specific meaning in the Burgundy region in France. See reference Beaune Committee of 1861, then forget you read it. You just have to ask yourself, who exactly is deciding this stuff? Also, just because the fruit is of high quality does not mean the wine is.
Premier Cru / 1er Cru
A vineyard producing an unusually high quality of fruit, just not as good as the Grand Cru. What? See reference Beaune Committee of 1861 and then forget it again.
Oh boy, here we go… best, most prestigious wineries in Bordeaux France. In reality, these were just the most expensive wineries at the time this classification was established – 1855. See Bordeaux Classification of 1855.
Be Skeptical of Wine-Speak and Make Your Own Evaluation
My guess is, at this point you have already lost interest, but for those of indomitable spirit… we trudge on with a few final comments.
By now you have probably figured out, what is on a wine label is so full of marketing gibberish, it is hard to distinguish what is of real relevance. Good luck on that one. In the U.S. vs. Europe, it is particularly a serious concern. In many parts of Europe, individual wine producing areas actually enforce practices to improve the quality of the wine from that area, unlike the U.S. with no such requirements.
I hear more and more from the industry that consumers are relying on their own tastes and making fewer buy decisions based on professional wine critics’ recommendations. In the same vein, it would be smart not to trust the wineries own professional claims printed on wine labels too! If you would like to share additional suspicious verbiage seen on a wine label, please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.