Wine Labels and Quality Demystified

wine labels and quality demystified

When you buy alcohol online in Singapore and look at your average wine label, it can be intimidating. What do all of those terms, dates, and abbreviations actually say about the quality of the wine in the bottle?

Read on for the lowdown on some important labeling features that provide an indication of the standard of red or white in your glass.

Protective AOC, DOCG, DO, Qualitätswein or Prädikatswein

First things first: Let’s look at AOC which is short for Appellation d’ Origine Contrôlée. This appears on French bottles and indicates the origin and methods in the production of wine. The name of the specific area is inserted where d’Origine is, for example as in Appellation Bordeaux Contrôlée. This indicates a minimum level of quality because certain strict criteria are being met in the wine’s production.

In Italy, a similar quality assurance is seen in DOCG which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or DOC meaning Denominazione di Origine Controllata. Both abbreviations indicate strict production criteria, but the former is stricter.

Quality Spanish wines are indicated with Denominación de Origen (DO) and Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa). DOs that have existed for ten years can apply for the latter, more prestigious designation. Presently there are only two DOCas: Rioja and Priorat.

When you see Qualitätswein or Prädikatswein on German wines, you can be sure the wine is of good quality. The latter is subdivided not six categories with each indicating a precise level of rising sweetness.

Old Vines

You may find it odd that the term “Old Vines” on a label is an indication of superior quality. Surely young, vibrant wines produce the richest, freshest fruit, don’t they?

“No” is the answer. All things being equal, meaning the vines are in good health and cared for properly, vines with a few years behind them yield smaller bunches of grapes and berries which boast richer concentration and fine qualities that are a winemaker’s dream. It’s worth noting, however, that there is no universal agreement on what constitutes an old vine. Generally, nothing under the age of 20 would qualify but serious contenders found all over the Old and New Worlds tend to be upward of 50 years with some achieving the status of a centenarian.

The exclusive standard of wine these vines can produce is something to highlight which is why you see it on wine labels.

In French, this term translates as Vieilles Vignes and in German, Alte Reben.

Traditional Method Sparkling Wine

When you see this on a bottle of bubbly, you know that you’ve got some fine fizz there. This is the method for making Champagne and, as with Old Vines, is something to boast about on the label. The reason for this is the production of this iconic bubbly is very strict, painstaking, costly, and ultimately aimed at the finest quality and expression.

Known in its original French as “méthode traditionnelle”, you’ll see different ways of indicating this premier process in different territories. Other regions in France aren’t allowed to use the word Champagne on their sparkling wines made with the traditional method but when you see the world Crémant on a bottle of bubbly, you know it’s gone through this exacting process. There are numerous excellent sparkling wines across France that are worth exploring.

In South Africa, this production procedure is often referred to as  Method Cap Classique and Spain’s famous fix, Cava, is made in the same way.

We hope you’ve enjoyed his brief introduction of terms that indicated quality on wine bottles.

However, we wouldn’t want you to think that wines and spirits without these indications are always of an inferior standard. It simply isn’t true. For example, there’s plenty of beautiful bubbly made in non-traditional method ways and good wines that exist outside the protected indications. Regard this as a primer guide but enjoy exploring what makes a fine wine through your own exploration as well.

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