Carhartt Family Wines

How to Read a Wine Label

The information found on wine labels can be both very informative and enjoyable. Since different countries (or states) have different standards, we’ll focus on California for now. 

In general, the information found on labels is federally mandated by the TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau, formerly ATF, Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms). There are certain requirements that must appear on the label(s) in order to be approved. Then there are options which the winery or bottler may or may not wish to include. Let’s begin with the mandatory items. 

Label Requirements in California

  • Brand name: this identifies the name under which the wine will be sold (for example Carhartt Family Wines, in our case). 
  • Class or type designation: for example, red wine, sparkling wine, Rose, dessert wine, etc. Alternatively, one can use the actual varietal itself as the class/type as in Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, etc. 
  • Appellation of origin: the area where the fruit used to make the wine was grown, as in a county or state – at least 75% of the grapes must have originated in the named area.  For AVAs (American Viticultural Area), like Santa Ynez Valley, 85%+ of the grapes must come from that named area. 
  • Alcohol content: stated in an approved format, like 13.5% Alc by Vol. 
  • Net Contents:  total volume of wine, as in 750 ml, stated on the label or branded/blown onto the container. 
  • Name and address: the name and address as it appears on the permit listed on the application and preceded by a phrase such as “produced and bottled by” or “imported by” or even “cellared by.” 
  • Health warning statement: this must appear exactly as prescribed in the regulations, must be separate from all other information, and in a specific size and format. In fact, the TTB requires “Contains Sulfites” on the label if the wine has 10ppm+ of total sulfur dioxide. 

Non-Mandatory Label Elements

Now for the more “fun” items – not mandatory, but usually of interest to the consumer. These can include special designations, such as private reserve or estate bottled (100% of the fruit comes from the estate). The vintage, or year in which the grapes were grown & processed, can also be included. A “fanciful” name might also appear, as seen in many blends. However, the TTB must approve these names, as some might deem them suggestive or inappropriate. (Although THAT is highly subjective!) Fanciful names can also run into the danger of trademarks, but that’s a topic for another time. Finally, producers can include other more miscellaneous items like grape clones, fermentation techniques, barrel type, etc. The list goes on. 

Bottom line: the information on labels should inform and perhaps, entertain the consumer, but should not be false or misleading. And in any case, it’s much more important for what is INSIDE the bottle than what’s on the outside. Let’s drink to that!