Fine wine labels – what do they tell you?

Do you want to improve your wine knowledge? Start with understanding fine wine labels.

Fine wine labels have become important in terms of brand, value and aesthetic appeal for investment wines. Bordeaux First Growth, Chateau Mouton Rothschild has been the industry leader of the growing adoption of top producers commissioning great artists to design labels and in turn creating collector appeal. Wine bottle label information can sometimes get diluted in the process. Here’s what you can learn from a fine wine label.

What Information is on a Fine Wine Bottle Label?

Every wine producer in the world must provide certain key information on their label:

1. Brand and producer name

The value of many fine wines is intrinsically linked to brand and for many, particularly Bordeaux and Burgundy producers with centuries of heritage, labels have helped forge iconic brands over the years. The clear portrayal of the brand name on a bottle identifies the quality of the wine and its perceived value.

2. Name of the wine

Vineyards and wine estates often produce a number of wines but are more likely than not to have developed their reputation from their Grand Vin, or first wine. The very best grapes, and the plots they originate from are generally retained for these top wines. Producers often own vineyards in different regions, even countries but still want to retain and promote connection to the key brand.

Each chateau or Domaine has its own label design and each wine a distinctive name but all are likely to feature elements of the parent, or higher profile wine brand. For example, all DBR wines all carry the famous Lafite Rothschild arrow insignia, either printed on the bottle foil, label or cut into the glass of the bottle.Screaming Eagle Wine Bottle Label

Producers of investment-grade wines generally name wines after the family or vineyard, or influential historical figures such as Dom Perignon. Of the older estates, some of these may have evolved over time as vineyards have been acquired and merged and can be centuries old. Other wine producers have adopted evocative and highly memorable names such as Cheval Blanc and Screaming Eagle

3. Geographical location (GI)

Geographical Indication (GI) is very important and comes with strict regulations in the EU. These set out where the grapes come from, stipulate which grape varietals can be used and how the wine should be made. GI often determines climate influences and grape ripening through regional norms which in some regions producers cannot influence through production methods due to strict AOC rules. Understanding GI will help a consumer to get a feel for a region’s natural wine taste.

4. Grape variety

The type of grape or grapes used in wine production is the most important factor to determine the characteristics of a wine in terms of taste, acidity and fruit, alcoholic content, and tannins providing structure and ageing capacity. Fine wine labels may not always include grape type and may just state region, which is why understanding common grape types grown in a particular area is helpful when buying wine.

5. Vintage

The vintage on a wine label denotes the year the grapes were harvested and is really important, particularly for fine wine investment. Understanding the age of a wine helps us all to be clear on its readiness to be drunk, or just as important, when it might be expected to go past its optimum drinking window.

For fine wine investment purposes, a portfolio can be diversified by vintage. Qualitatively a vintage can be described as Prime, Mid or Off. A Prime vintage is recorded when industry critics score a higher-than-average number of extremely high-quality scores that year. A Prime vintage can add a premium value and  wines can become collectors’ items.

6.  Alcohol By Value (ABV)

Producers are legally obliged to state the ABV, which is a measure of the alcoholic content of the wine in the bottle. As a rough guide most dry, light wines will range from 11 to 15% and wines over 15% are generally fortified, i.e. had additional alcohol added to them. Wines under 11% may have unfermented sugar content and have some sweetness to them.

7. Security

Some wine makers are also now using their labels for security measures with special adaptations to prevent fraud.

8. Descriptive Terms of Wine

Other terms may be used on a label to describe a wine to help guide a consumer, for example whether a wine is ‘dry’, ‘fruity’ and ‘sweet’. A few other examples are:

Barrel-aged’ means a wine has spent some ageing time in oak barrels to absorb some of the qualities they bestow. Newly coopered oak barrels can lend flavours of spice and wood to a wine.

Demi-sec’- an adopted French term meaning a wine is literally ‘half-dry’ with some fruit content

Vieilles vignes / old vines’ – older vines generally produce lower quantities of grapes, but also more intensely flavoured wines and are an important constituent of the top investment grade wines, with historic plots being highly prized.Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2018 Label

Looking at a standard wine label you can see all of the constituents noted above. Fine wine producers have very strict regulations to comply with and a wine label sets out the relevant AOC in these cases.

Investment Wines – Labels and Value

Brand labels have become collectors’ items, in particular, with ‘special bottlings’. For example, Mouton Rothchild’s golden ram label for the 2000 vintage, commemorating the new century, Margaux’s commemorative 2015 label, the last of their great wine maker, Paul Pontalier, and Angelus’ 2012 vintage label to celebrate its St Emilion Grand Cru Classe A accreditation.

Bordeaux First Growth, Chateau Mouton Rothschild has been the industry leader of the growing adoption by top producers to commission great artists to design labels. Baron Philiipe de Rothschild first started the annual redesign of the First Growth’s labels by great artists such as Picasso, David Hockney and even Prince Charles. Chateau  in 1945, Chateau Cos d’Estournel announced in June 2021 that its 2020 vintage label will also be a special design on its en primeur release.

For information on investment wines with special labels and current opportunities, contact the Vin-X team now on 0203 384 2262.

Enjoyed our information on fine wine labels? Learn more with our Guide to Fine Wine Investment

Our Guide to Collecting and Investing in Fine Wine provides an introduction to understanding fine wine as an investment asset and helps you understand how you can benefit from including it in your portfolio as part of your financial planning.

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