Fine wine labels – what do they tell you?

Fine wine labels have become massively 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, not lost, but certainly diluted in the process. We explain here what fine wine labels tell you.

Information Found on Wine Labels

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

1.Brand / 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 is key to the value of the wine and the quality therein.

Brand labels can also become collectors’ items, for example Chateau Margaux’ commemorative label for the 2015 vintage, the last of their great wine maker, Paul Pontalier. Chateaux Angelus’ and Pavie’s 2012 vintage labels commemorate when they achieved their St Emilion Classe A accreditation.

2.Wine name

Producers very 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, but producers often own vineyards in different regions, even countries but still want to retain a connection to brand. In terms of fine wine investment we are generally only interested in the First and Second wine labels of the most iconic producers.

For example, Domaine Lafite Rothschild owns vineyards in France, Napa, Chile and has partnerships elsewhere in the world including China. You therefore find that producers may have a number of labels within their ‘stable’ which differentiate the wines from other bottles within their range.

In terms of names, producers of investment grade wines generally name wines after the family or vineyard names and local historical figures such as Dom Perignon. Of the older ones, some of these may have evolved over time and others are centuries old. Others have adopted highly memorable names such as Cheval Blanc and Screaming Eagle.

3.Geographical location (GI)

Geographical Indication or ‘GI’ is very important and comes with strict regulations in the EU. These set out where the wine’s 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 in determine what a wine will taste like. Each varietal lends certain characteristics to 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, vintage is extremely important as a prime vintage, where industry critics score a higher than average number of extremely high quality wines, can create a premium value to the top wines of the year and they can become collectors’ items.

Vintage is generally an indicator of influencing conditions on the overall region’s wine production, such as climate. Where conditions are very challenging some producers may decide not to produce a first wine. 2017 was a particularly challenging year in Bordeaux with devastating frosts. A number of the iconic estates had reduced production and did not create a Grand Vin. As a consequence in some vintages supply maybe rarer and this too can have an influence over price with higher values for rare top brands.

6.ABV – Alcohol By Value

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.

Chateau Sigalas Rabaud Sauternes Bottle Back7.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.

 

 

Looking at a standard wine label you can see all of the constituents noted above. There is generally no difference between red wine labels and white, however most of the investment grade wines are red, apart from certain top Champagnes.

Fine wine producers have very strict regulations to comply with and a wine label sets out the relevant AOC in these cases. Some wine makers are also now using their wine labels for security measures with special adaptations to prevent fraud.

 

 

Fine wine investment is now recognised as providing an alternative asset to diversify portfolios and we are seeing the value of this being demonstrated during the Covid-19 crisis. Volatile financial markets are seeing £billions of value wiped out whilst fine wine values are staying stable and profits are generally CGT exempt (subject to personal circumstances).

Understanding how to invest in fine wine could be very advantageous right now and which fine wine labels currently offer the best opportunity for growth. See our Guide to Fine Wine Investment and contact the Vin-X team now on 0203 384 2262.