Label Lore

A Glossery of terms found on wine labels

Aged in Slavonian Oak: Slavonian oak has a tight grain and imparts low aromatics and medium level tannins. Italian winemakers have a long history of using Slavonian oak barrels for aging as it can be used in larger barrel sizes (with less surface area relative to volume) additionally the barrels can be reused for many years before needing replacement.

Appellation is a legally defined and protected geographical area where a wine’s grapes were grown, for example Bordeaux or Russian River Valley. Regulations such as what grapes may be grown, alcohol level and other quality factors vary widely and are dependent on the country in which the wine is produced.

Azienda Agricola: A winery or estate that produces its wines from at least half of its estate grown grapes.

Bardolino is both a wine and region hailing from the western part of the Veneto region in northern Italy. The area benefits from the glacial soil and the consistent microclimate of the Alps and Lake Garda. The wines are made with the same grapes as nearby Valpolicella wines; Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, as with everything else in Italy, the Bardolino wines have their own distinctive personality. Whilst Valpolicella wines have been called “the Italian Beaujolais” Bardolino wines are light, fresh and super versatile, in fact they are known as the “all meal wine”, able to pair with any type of dish. Similar in structure, yet each with their own unique characteristics. Bardolino wines are meant to be enjoyed young, although many can take up to 5 years or so of aging.

Barolo Chinato was conceived in the 19th century by pharmacist Giuseppe Cappellano. He infused Nebbiolo da Barolo wine with quinine bark along with other roots herbs and spices such as clove, cinnamon and wormwood, sweetened with cane sugar and barrel aged. It was intended as a medicinal digestive drink. Today it is a Piedmont delicacy, considered a wonderful after meal sip, and especially fantastic with chocolate.

Biodynamic originated with the early 20th century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner; it is based on the precise observation and an attempt at the balance of nature and is designed to promote and enhance biodiversity and biological activity in the soil. The principle goes further than just organic; the grower tries to bring the farming process closer to the processes of nature. Biodynamic winemakers view the vineyard as a complete living system, the soil, insects, animals, other vegetation all working together in harmony to produce incredible wines. Strict management of resources is practiced to restore and maintain ecological balance. In addition to seeing the vineyard as an ecological whole, it also incorporates tuning into the forces of the cosmos, such as linking sowing and harvesting to the phases of the moon or the position of the planets.  Biodynamic wines are not made with any chemical additives or common winemaker manipulations such as the addition of yeast or acidity changes. Some of the most high-end producers are beginning to experiment with biodynamics, as wines produced with it are more related to the land, which inarguably is the foundation of great wines.

Bordeaux is a region in France and refers to any wines that are produced there. Wine production began around 48 AD when the Romans established vineyards to produce wine for their soldiers. The region produces more wines than any other region in the world, ranging from large quantities of everyday table wine, to some of the most expensive and distinguished wines in the world. The red wines are the most well known, although there are also notable white, rose and sparkling wines produced. The four major growing regions in Bordeaux are: Médoc [the majority of châteaux are found here], Pomerol, Graves, and St. Émillion.

Bourgogne is a generic appellation found in Burgundy, France. The wine produced with this label is made from grapes grown anywhere within Burgundy. They are straightforward, simple, enjoyable wines.

Cannubi is the oldest single vineyard, most historical cru within the commune of Barolo in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy [there is a bottle of Cannubi 1752 in a museum]. A hill of vineyards, there are only 5 parcels total. Cannubi wines are renowned for their elegance and finesse, specifically their floral notes. Although incredibly age worthy [20 years +] they can also be enjoyed earlier on, typically beginning at around 6 years old.

Carmignano is a wine region located in the Tuscany region in Italy. It has been noted for the high quality of its wines since the Middle Ages. In 1716 Grand Duke Cosimo III set a decree granting the region special legal protections for its wine production. In the 18th century winemakers began blending Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, thereby predating the “Super Tuscans” of now and becoming the first DOC to officially sanction the blending. The low altitude of Carmignano results in wines that have low acidity and more pronounced tannins than other Tuscan wines.  Additionally they tend to be medium bodied with chocolate and fruit notes and good ageing potential.

Cerasuolo D’Abruzzo Located in central Italy, it is the newest DOC in the Abruzzo region. Created in October 2010, the DOC covers the fresh, intensely flavoured, dry wines formerly labeled as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo. The wines are crafted using an ancient winemaking technique in which the juice has a very limited amount of contact with the skin. [Cerasuolo refers to the bright cherry red colour of the wines.]

Chablis is the northernmost wine region of Burgundy in France.  All Chablis is made 100% from Chardonnay grapes. The cool climate of this region produces wines with more acidity and less fruit flavours than other Chardonnay wines grown in warmer climates. The wines tend to be crisp with racy green apple, lime and tropical fruit notes, while the limestone soils can impart a distinctive mineral quality. Most Chablis winemakers do not age in oak, rather they prefer to emphasize the wine’s bright, fresh, varietal flavors. There are 7 Grand Crus; all are located on one southwest facing hill that overlooks the town of Chablis. Some wine experts believe that Chablis is the purest expression of Chardonnay, due to the simple style of winemaking in the region and the focus on its terroir. Chablis has good cellaring potential; Grand Crus can age for well over 15 years, while many other Premier Crus can age for at least 10 years.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a French wine Appellation d’origine Contrôlée [AOC] located around the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhône wine region in southeast France. It is the most famous appellation and red wine in the southern part of the Rhône. The name means “new castle of the Pope” and refers to the time in the 14th century when the Pope resided in the walled city of Avignon south of the vineyards. The renowned terroir comes from the smooth stones that fill the vineyards. The stones are typically quartzite and are the remnants of Alpine glaciers. The vineyards are farmed organically and some are even biodynamic. The abundant sun and wind negates the need for chemicals and pesticides. The wines are mostly red and based on Grenache and Syrah, only certain varietals are allowed to be included in the blend.  They are expressive, sumptuous, food-friendly wines filled with dense earthy, gamey flavours.

Clairet originally referred to a light French red Bordeaux wine, the British apply the term Claret in reference to all red Bordeaux, and in the United States it’s used to describe red wines made in the style of Bordeaux, with Bordeaux grape varieties.

Côtes du Rhône is a wine growing Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée [AOC] for the Rhône wine region of southeast France. It is perhaps the most diverse region in France ranging from the full bodied reds in the north, Châteauneuf du Pape and Crozes Hermitage in the south, to the white wines of Condrieu and Château Grillet. Not all growers produce their own wine, especially independent growers; they can deliver their grapes to co-operative wineries or to merchants who have vinification, bottling and distribution facilities. Higher appellations are Côtes du Rhône Villages, Crus, and named villages. There are strict rules for the proportion and type of grapes used in the blends that all producers must follow. Generally, the north produces dark, powerful spicy reds made predominantly with Syrah. Whilst the warmer south Rhône produces softer, riper wines using Grenache as the dominant grape.

Crianza found on Spanish labels, refers to the fact that the wine has been aged for two years.  During these two years it must have spent a minimum of 6 months in oak barrels, and 18 months in the bottle.

Cru French term meaning “growth place”. Premier Cru [first growth] a wine of the most superior level, or the vineyard which produces it[also seen on labels as 1er]. It is the highest level of classification of AOC wines from Burgundy and Alsace. Grand Cru [great growth] is the classification below Premier Cru and above the basic “Village” AOC. More specifically, cru is often used to indicate a specifically named and legally defined vineyard or ensemble of vineyards and the vines, their reputed terroir, and quality.

Cru Artisan is a French classification established in 2006 and given to independently owned Chateaux that offer consistently high quality wine. Currently only 44 Chateaux have the Cru Artisan designation. The Chateaux generally utilize sustainable agricultural methods and do the majority of processes by hand.

Cru Beaujolais is the highest classification in Beaujolais, the word cru in this case refers to an entire wine producing area rather than an individual vineyard. The Beaujolais crus are: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin à Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly. In order to separate themselves from mass-produced Nouveau Beaujolais, cru wines do not usually display the word Beaujolais on their label. Cru wines are generally more full bodied, richer in colour and flavor and age well.

Cru Bourgeois is found on French labels, it was revised in 2010 and consists of only one classification level. It is awarded annually as a mark of quality to wines rather than to a châteaux, on the basis of an assessment of both production methods and the finished product. It is given to chateaus that were not included in the famous, Napoleon requested 1855 Classification in the Médoc region of Bordeaux. They tend to be high quality wines that are just a level below Cru Classé, and above the more general Bordeaux classification. Any property located in the Médoc may apply for the classification.

Cuvée  means “vat” and denotes the contents of a vat. In France it refers to a blended batch of wines. Outside of France it is generally used to identify a specific batch of wines blended separately and distinctly from others. The presence of it on a label of a random producer is no guarantee of its superior quality. However, the wines will usually be special blends or selected vats of higher quality, at least in comparison to that producer’s regular wine.

DOCG [Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita] [Controlled designation of Origin Guaranteed] Italian classification system designed to encourage producers to focus on quality wine making. It is a superior classification of DOC wines, and requires compliance to stricter directives. DOCG wines must pass an evaluation of a tasting committee before they can be bottled. Upon receipt of a favorable report on the outcome of the chemical and sensory analyses, the DOCG official body issues small pink [green for white wines] numbered seals that fit over the cap or cork.

Estate Bottled This term certifies that the winery grew 100% of the grapes on land it owns or controls and that the winery crushed, fermented, finished, aged, and bottled the wine in a continuous process. Both the vineyard and winery must be located in the viticultural area that is stated on the label. [Château bottled signifys the same thing.]  Both refer to a wines considered superior in quality and character. *European phrases equivalent to “estate bottled” are: in France, Mis En Bouteille au Domaine, Mis au Domaine, Mis en Bouteille a la Propriete and Mis en Bouteille du Chateau; in Italy, Imbottigliato All’origine; and in Germany, Erzeugerabfullung.

  • Grown, Produced and Bottled By is comparable to “Estate Bottled” and indicates that the grapes were grown at the winery’s vineyards and that the wine was vinified and bottled at the winery.
  • Produced and Bottled By means that the winery crushed, fermented and bottled at least 75% of the wine in that particular bottling, but it does not mean that the winery grew the grapes used in the wine.
  • Made and Bottled By means that a minimum of 10% of the wine was fermented at the winery, the other 90 percent could be from other sources. This designation does not generally indicate the same quality level implied by the phrase “Produced and Bottled By.”
  • Cellared and Bottled By indicates that the bottler has aged the wine or subjected it to cellar treatment before bottling, but did not make the wine.
  • Bottled by alone on a label indicates that the only role the winery played in the wine’s production was to purchase and bottle wine made somewhere else.

Gallo Nero [black rooster] is a symbol of Chianti, [vineyards that lie between Florence and Siena], and its wine. Standard Chianti Classico is labelled with a Gallo Nero surrounded by a red border, whereas Riserva Chianti Classico is labelled with a Gallo Nero surrounded by a gold border. The Chianti Classico Consorzio is also called Gallo Nero in honor of the symbol, which appears on the neck of the label of each bottle of member wines. Many Chianti Classico producers are members of the regional nongovernmental consortium or consorzio, however not all producers share the philosophies and policies of the voluntary association, and so some have not joined.

Gentil is a denomination for a traditional white wine blend that dates back to the 19th century. The blend must consist of a minimum of 50% Riesling, Muscat and/or Gewürztraminer, the remainder can be Sylvaner, Chasselas and/or Pinot Blanc. The grapes are vinified separately before blending, and must qualify as an AOC Alsace wine.

Gran Riserva found on Spanish labels, means that the wine has been aged for a minimum of 5 years, during which 2 of the 5 years must be spent in oak barrels, 3 years in the bottle. Generally, the best grapes will go into the gran reserve.

Greco di Tufo is a DOCG located in the Campania wine region of southern Italy. It is named for the village of Tufo while Tufo itself is named for the solid base of tufaceous rock that lies under the clay and sand soil there. The wines must be comprised of 85-100% of the Greco grape. The tufo rich volcanic soils lend these simple white wines with their characteristic aromatics of peaches and green foliage, along with a crisp minerality. They are best enjoyed young, generally up to 2 years from the vintage date.

Grumello: is one of 5 subzones of Valtellina Superiore, located in Lombardy, northwestern Italy, and is named after the castle there that dates back to 13th century. The other 4 subzones are Sassella, Maaroggia, Valgella and Inferno [named befittingly due to its intense heat].Wines must consist of at least 90% Nebbiolo [which is called Chiavennasca locally] the remainder can be any other red wine grape.

I.G.P. [France: Indication Géographique Protégée, Italy: Indicazione Geografica Tipica – Protected Geographical Region]. Literally means the wine has a protected origin. In more comprehensive terms it means the wine came from high quality vineyards that are located near more recognized appellations or AOC (such as Provence, Bordeaux or Tuscany). In order to get certified as IGP, winemakers need to present their wines each year and meet the set standards such as geographical location of vineyards, vine yields and varietal types.

Lutte Raisonnée literally translates to “reasoned fight” (in French), or “supervised control” (in English). It is a reaction to the use of chemicals in farming, rather chemical treatments are used only when absolutely necessary or not at all. Biodiversity in the vineyards is encouraged through the planting of cover crops, rigorous plowing of the soils, and the use of manures and natural composts to fertilize the vines.

Meritage is a brand for both red and white Bordeaux style wines that does not infringe upon France’s Bordeaux appellation. In order to have the word Meritage on a label, winemakers must license the trademark form the California based Meritage Alliance. The blend must consist of at least two grapes from the following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot or Carmenere with no single varietal comprising more than 90% of the blend.

Montsant is a region in Spain consisting of 50 vineyards that ring the highly acclaimed region of Priorat. Whereas Priorat wines can be on the more expensive side, Montsants are generally budget friendly and posses many of the same qualities as Priorats since they are grown in the same mineral rich soil.

Natural refers to wines made with the least possible use of chemical, additives and overly technological procedures. Working with organic or biodynamically grown grapes, natural winemakers avoid laboratory yeasts, acids and enzymes during fermentation, and they rarely refine or filter their wines. The belief is that minimally invasive methods in the cellar result in the clearest expression of place and vintage in the wine. [Thanks to Astor Wines in NYC for their comprehensive definition.]

Négociant is the French term for a wine merchant that buys grapes from growers or winemakers and sells the final result under his own name. They can buy everything from grapes to wines in various states of completion; they may buy grapes and vinify them, buy wines and blend, age and bottle them. Found predominately today in Burgundy, examples of well-known négociants are Faiveley and Louis Jadot. Many have a recognizable winemaking style, and some own their own vineyards.

Old Vines indicates that a wine is the product of grape vines that are notably old. The practice of adding it to a label stems from the general belief that older vines, when properly handled, will give a better wine. Grape vines can grow for over 120 years. After about 20 years vines start to produce smaller crops, and average yields decrease, leading to more concentrated, intense wines. In the U.S., the most common use of “old vines” is on Zinfandel because in California vineyards up to 125 years old are still bearing small amounts of prized Zinfandel fruit. When a producer sells a “regular” and “old vines” bottling, it is more likely to represent a perceptible difference in character, not necessarily in quality. Generally, the more reputable the producer, the more likely it is to mean something. However in most countries, it has no legal or even generally agreed upon definition. In these ways, “old vines” is similar to “reserve” a term that also varies dramatically in its significance and in many countries and regions has no legal definition.

Organic refers to the absence of artificial chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides in the growth of grapes and in the production process. During the production of wine [fermentation, bottling etc] many chemical additives can be used to preserve the wine and increase taste. A bottle labeled “Organic Wine” will have been made with organically grown grapes and without the use of chemicals, such as sulphur dioxide, during production [although naturally occurring sulphites will be present as they are a byproduct of fermentation]. A wine labeled “made with organically grown grapes” means that only the grapes are organic, and chemicals were used in the production of the wine. Wine producers are increasingly recognizing the benefits of organic farming as the quality of wine they produce is better, resulting in increased sales and demand.

Orvieto [Orvieto Classico is a sub-zone] is an Italian DOC wine region located in Umbria and Lazio known chiefly for its white wines made primarily of Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes.  The Grechetto grape contributes body and fruitiness to the blend, of which Malvasia, Verdello and Canaiolo Bianco can also be added.  There are two distinct varieties of Orvieto produced; ones that are Trebbiano dominated, and ones that draw upon the liberal DOC blending policy and include as many other grape varieties as permitted. Orvieto wines are dry, both a semi –sweet [Orvieto Abboccato] and sweet [dolce] styles are produced in small quantities.

Pét-nat [pétillant naturel ] An ancient method of making sparkling wines, literally it translates to “naturally sparkling”. As Bon Appétit explains “ it is made by taking unfinished (in other words, still-fermenting) wine, bottling and capping it, and allowing it to complete fermentation in the bottle (that’s where the bubbles come from). It’s the ultimate in lo-fi winemaking”. It can be a risky method as the end result is not predictable, but this is exactly what makes it so exciting, and why it is seeing a revival with pioneering winemakers. Traditionally left unfiltered and bottled with a crown cap rather than a cork, the result is a simple, rustic, unpolished, yet super fresh, distinctive bubbly.

Pied-de-Cuve A small amount of grapes are collected a few days before harvest, these grapes are pressed and fermentation begins. This is then added to the main harvest grapes. This ancient winemaking technique is a sort of control or stabilization for natural yeast fermentation, preventing undesirable strains of yeast ensuring purity of aroma and flavour, without the addition of any chemicals.

Priorat is a small wine region in Catalonia in northeastern Spain that produces some of the most expensive wines in the world. It is one of only two wine regions in Spain to receive a DOCa qualification, the highest awarded in Spain. Often compared to Chateauneuf-du-Pape in France, Priorat wines are primarily Garnacha. Yields are extremely low due to the hot climate, old vine age and perhaps its most famous feature, nutrient poor soils. The soil is known as “Licorella” and is composed of black, volcanic slate and quartzite that impart the wines with their renowned powerful minerality.

Premiѐres Côtes de Bordeaux [ 1 ѐres Côtes de Bordeaux] is a long, narrow appellation more than 30 miles long, located along the right bank of the Garonne River in Bordeaux. It is a very prolific region covering a band of 37 communes, with mostly red wines produced, and these are generally known for their strong fruit flavours and superb value.

Quaffer a wine that is meant to be drunk heartily, not sipped. Informal, simple, wines that you don’t really think about when drinking, but are pleasant and enjoyable.

Reserve [reserva/riserva] implies that the wine is of a higher quality than usual, or a wine that has been aged before being sold, or both. Traditionally winemakers would “reserve” some of their best wine rather than sell it immediately, coining the term. Spain and Italy are the only major wine producing countries that have a legal backing for the term. The majority of other wine countries do not regulate the term, and it is used as a marketing ploy for unsuspecting wine consumers. In fact, its generally accepted that there are no true Reserve wines under $20.

Rioja is a region/appellation in Spain with a long vinicultural history. There are three sub regions: Alta, Alavesa and Baja Classic. There are 4 red varieties and 3 white varieties allowed in the Rioja DOC. AS with other Spanish wines, the label may state Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva, depending on barrel and bottle ageing. Rioja wines are usually a blend of various grape varieties, with Tempranillo the most widely used as a base, then following with Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo.

Rosso di Montalcino is made from the younger or not so superior grapes [the Brunello clone of the Sangiovese grape] from the vineyards in Montalcino, Tuscany. It is usually thought of as Brunello’s younger sibling, since the Rosso is lighter, fruitier, less complex and less expensive than Brunello di Montalcino. The best producers treat their Rosso in the same manner as their Brunello, and in many cases [especially in a not so ideal vintage year] the Rosso is a smart choice as some producers declassify the Brunello grapes to make Rosso instead.

Rosso Piceno DOC is the largest production zone in the Marche region of central Italy. Sangiovese [from 15-50%]and Montepulciano [from 35-85%] are the predominant grapes used in the wine, other varietals such as Trebbiano and Passerina can comprise up to 15% of the blend.The style and blend varies widely according to each producer, but they tend to always be a fantastic value.

Solera is a fractional ageing process developed in Spain and Portugual and typically used with the production of Sherry and Port. Barrels are stacked upon each other or in rows from oldest to youngest in age. Each year a small percentage will be extracted from the oldest barrels to be used in that current year’s bottling. The now open space in the old barrels is filled with wine from the next level and this is repeated until reaching the youngest barrels, which are topped off with the current harvest’s wine. The final product is a blend of the current harvest wine along with the different solera vintages. The average age will gradually increase as the process continues over many years, which established a constant average age along with consistency in the wine.

Sommelier is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional that specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food pairing. The principal work of a sommelier is in the areas of wine procurement, wine storage, cellar rotation, and expert service to wine customers. Becoming a certified sommelier requires classes and an examination.

Tavel is an appellation in the southern Rhône around the town of Tavel that specialises in dry Rosé wines. The wines are made predominantly from Grenache, Syrah and Clairette grape varieties. The hot dry climate of the area contributes a unique depth of flavor to the wines, which is further emphasized by extended skin contact during fermentation. The wines have a deep pink colour and high tannin levels, and will cellar for several years although they are usually consumed young. Meant to be served chilled, they are robust, dry wines with spicy berry flavours.

Trocken found on German labels for both red and white wines, informs that the wine is very dry.

Txakolina is a wine known for its high acidity, low alcohol content and typically effervescent body. It is predominantly produced in the Spanish Basque Country, including the areas of Cantabria and northern Burgos. It tends to generally be a white wine, but both red and rosé varieties are produced.

Valpolicella is a viticultural zone in the province of Verona, in the region of Veneto, Italy. It is a red wine created from the blending of 3 different grapes; Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella.  It ranks right after Chianti in total Italian production, and like Chianti has suffered with a bad image. The producers are now working diligently to change this image by improving the quality of their wines. Generally Valpolicella are highly fragrant, have a light cherry flavor, hints of licorice, slightly bitter finish, and a medium weight velvety body. Valpolicella Classico is made from grapes grown in the traditional center of Valpolicella with an 11% alcohol content, about 50% of all Valpolicella falls into this designation. Valpolicella Superiore is aged for at least one year and has an alcohol content of 12% or more, Valpolicella Ripasso is a form of Valpolicella Superiore made with the partially dried skins that are leftover from the production of Amarone.

Vin de Pays is a French term designating a “country wine”. It ranks above the lower table wine [Vin de table], and right below AOC  [Appellation d’Origine Controlee] classifications. They are known to be approachable, food friendly, and great value wines.

Vin de Pays d’Oc is a Vin de Pays that essentially covers the Languedoc-Roussillon area in France. The wines can be red, white or rosé. They make up the largest Vin de Pays produced, the term IGP is the EU equivalent.

Vin de Savoie is a wine region located on the western edge of the Alps, in the extreme eastern part of France. The area is known for its distinctive, dry, mineral driven white wines that are described as having an “alpine” character. Mostly white wines are produced, with the grape varieties Chasselas, Jacquère, Altesse [Roussette], Verdesse, Chardonnay and Roussanne being most predominate. Light red wines are also produced, mainly from Mondeuse, Gamay and Pinot Noir.

Vinho Verde is the largest wine producing region in Portugal. It is located in the northwest, and is bordered by Atlantic Ocean and the Minho which separates Portugal from the Galicia region in Spain. The name literally means “green wine,” but translates as “young wine”, as opposed to mature wine. They may be red, white or rosé and are effervescent, light, fresh wines meant to be consumed within a year of bottling. White wines have a natural high acidity, low alcohol content and are made from traditional grape varieties of Loureiro, Trajadura, Arinto, Avesso and Azal.

Vino de Mesa A Spanish table wine. The grapes were sourced from unclassified vineyards. Can be used to denote a lower class of wine, however, some modern Spanish winemakers will intentionally declassify their wines so that they have greater flexibility in their winemaking production and methods.

Vino te la Tierra is found on Spanish labels, refers to the specific region where the wine was produced.

Vouvray is a region of the Loire Valley in France located along the right bank of the Loire River, close to the city of Tours. The appellation is almost exclusively dedicated to the Chenin Blanc grape, and the wines are produced in a wide range of styles; dry, semi-dry, sweet or sparkling.