Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
You can’t judge a book by the cover. Actually I think you can, but that’s another story! You can definitely tell a good deal about a wine by its label. To start with, I find that an attractive label is often a sign that the wine is of good quality, whereas a cheap label often indicates that the wine is unremarkable. Often, but not always.
The label will tell you first and foremost which country and region the wine comes from, who produced it and with what type of grape or combination of grapes, the vintage year, and the abv (alcohol by volume).
The last bit is important because there is a big difference between the 8 per cent of some German wines and the 15 per cent of some blockbuster Australian examples. Personally, I prefer wines that weigh in around 13 per cent although the lighter or the stronger come into play depending on the food matching.
Perhaps the most complicated indication on the label is the ‘guarantee’ or classification which varies from country to country and which is further complicated because it often changes. For example, in France the most basic category is Vin de France, moving up to Vin de Pays for middle class wines, and AOP which is replacing AC for the highest quality. On German labels there is much, sometimes baffling information about the degree of sweetness of the wine.
In Italy, the bottom of the pyramid is vino tavola, and the top is DOCG which theoretically indicates super wine. To further simplify, or complicate as the case may be, regions within countries have their own classifications, the most famous being Bordeaux’s classification of 1855 which for the most part still exists to this day. For a final example, when choosing a Chianti, keep in mind the label will indicate whether the wine is cheap and cheerful Chianti DOCG or whether it moves up a grade to the zones of Rufina, Colli, or Senisi, or whether in fact it comes from one of the superior Classico villages such as Radda, Greve or Gaiole.
Personally, I think a wine label, like a good web page, should be un-cluttered. Too much information can be off-putting. One of the worst offences is trying to translate all the information on the label into a number of languages usually resulting in such small printing that it is un-readable.
Finally, wine labels can be fun. For some, collecting wine labels is a hobby. The names on a label can be mischievous and designed to bring a laugh with their play on words, particularly in new world countries. How about Goats do Roam from South Africa, or Chat eu Oeuf? New Zealand’s Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush? Now that’s going too far!