How to decode a wine label like a pro

Tips to make sure you pick the right bottle every time.
April 2, 2020 1:00 p.m. EST
April 2, 2020 12:40 p.m. EST
Let's face it—picking the right wine based on the label can be a tricky task, especially for the average person. If you aren't a wine connoisseur, deciphering the quality of the beverage based what you see on the bottle can be confusing, to say the least. Luckily for us, Wine Expert Natalie Maclean stopped by The Social to share some tips on how to get the most important information off a wine bottle label, and finally answer the question of whether or not it will work for your dinner party. Be sure to watch the video above to hear all of Natalie's great advice directly from her!


First and foremost, you need to look at the producer - the person who makes the wine. Do they have a good reputation? Get to know a few great producers from your favourite regions so you always have something to choose from. However, be warned that most joint ventures between celebrity vintners are just an excuse to raise the price, rather than produce doubly good wine.

Name of wine

Gimmicky names, when it comes to wine, are usually just a cheap trick designed to get you to pick up the bottle. Wine label designers want to make sure that the name isn’t too tough to pronounce because people may not want buy it if it sounds too complicated - that’s why you’ll see easier names like Loveblock or Hamilton Russell.


Where the wine comes from can tell us a lot about its taste. Colder climates like Canada or France will produce wines with balanced fruits and acidity. These colder climates can also produce spicier, restrained wines like riesling or pinot noir. Warm climates, like Australia or California, produce bolder wines likes shiraz or cabernet sauvignon due to all the sunshine. The more specific the place name, the stricter the quality and guide, the better the wine. This is due to the decreased likelihood of good and average grapes being mixed together!

Quality designation

Most European countries have quality designations for wines that meet certain standards—think of it as the difference between Prada and a knock-off. In France, the system is called Appellation d'Origine Controllé (AOC), and Spain, Italy, Portugal and Germany also classify their wines with similar methods. In Canada, we have the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) and the U.S. has its specified American Viticultural Areas (AVA).

Bogus adjectives

Don't pay attention to words like 'reserve' or 'vintner's selection'.  In North America, terms like those or 'cellar selection' aren’t regulated, so the wine may not have received any special treatment - it just sounds fancy and it’s whatever the wine maker wants it to mean.


Wines that are made from just one grape are called a varietal wine and not a blend. However, if the label states more grapes, it doesn’t necessarily mean its better, but should rather act as a way to find the wine that you prefer.


The vintage refers to the year the wine was made, and also allows you to know how much life it has left. The year makes a big impact on the wine, because in cooler climates the harvest can be great and the next, not so much. Most years in warmer climates don’t have as many problems as the weather doesn’t change too much so ripe wines are still produced. You don’t have to memorize the whole vintage chart, but if you have a favourite region, it helps to be familiar with its most recent vintages.

Alcohol and sugar content

Alcohol and sugar content are important to know whether the wine is dry or sweet. If the label says 13%, for example, you've got an extra dry wine. The percentage of alcohol by volume tells you whether a wine is full bodied (12% or higher) or more medium-to-light-bodied (8-11%). Lower-alcohol wines may contain some residual sugar and therefore be sweet, or at least off dry; whereas those at the higher end of the spectrum (13-15%) are often quite dry—unless they’re fortified sweet wines, such as port and sherry when the alcohol can range from 15% to 20%.

Back of bottle

Some wines will have pairing information at the back to engage you to buy it, but they often aren't reliable. The best advice is to skip the blurb and trust your own palate by experimenting with different dishes, something that’s ideally done by getting yourself invited to many dinner parties.

The wines featured in our segment:


Saint Clair Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2018Gérard Bertrand Perles de Grenache Rosé 2018Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 


La Marca ProseccoMontecillo Winery Reserva Tempranillo 2012Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 


Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Chateau Timberlay 2015 


Alvear FinoLenz Moser Prestige Grüner Veltliner 2016Jackson-Triggs Reserve Merlot 2012Fonseca Porto Bin 27