How to Decode a Wine Label

What does all that fine print mean?

  • Kathleen Squires

Expert advice from Olivier Flosse, sommelier, Café Boulud, New York City: 
 
The grape, the winemaker, and the vintage are the most important pieces of information on a wine label―the grape because you can immediately decide whether it's the type of wine you want to drink, the winemaker because some are good and some are not, and the vintage because some years are better than others. (In a restaurant, I always check to see that the vintage I'm served is the one I ordered―others may be more expensive or not as good.) Words like "reserve" and "private selection" basically mean nothing; they're just marketing. Same for bin or bottle numbers. "Table wine," in any language, is a blend of different grapes from different vintages; that doesn't mean it's not good. "California wine" can mean a blend of grapes from anywhere in the state, not just where they grow best. If a wine's from Napa or Sonoma, it will say so. Country-specific quality classifications may be given. France's best, for example, is labeled "AOC."