Wine Labels and What They Tell You

by Wendy VanHatten

How much time do you spend reading the label on your bottle of wine? That label is more than just a pretty face or an eye-catching piece of paper. One of the informative pieces it tells is about the appellation.


Estate Bottled: This term can be used only if an appellation appears on the label and the bottling winery is located within that same appellation. Another fact: that wine’s grapes must either have been grown on the winery’s own property, or controlled by the winery if the vineyards are not owned by them. One more thing that must happen: the grapes must also have been fermented, and the wine aged and bottled, on the winery’s premises. Whew! So…in order for a wine label to say Estate Bottled, it means grapes and wine processing remained under the control of one entity from start to finish.

This is true in France as well. They have their own version of estate-bottled wines, stated on labels with the term Mis en Bouteille au Domaine (or au Chateau).

Estate Grown: This is a little different and less strict in its truest meaning. Since Estate Grown isn’t clearly and officially defined by the governing authority in charge of wine terms (the U.S. Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau), it can be a much broader used term. In fact, the use of California on the label only means the grapes come from California. It doesn’t necessarily mean the grapes were grown under the same ownership.

Reserve: Usually, Reserve means it’s the winery’s best wine they have. Why? It could be the grapes were harvested by hand instead of machine, or maybe they came from select vines, or possibly from a specific hillside that is known for producing great fruit. You can expect Reserve wines to be priced higher than a producer’s non-Reserve wines.

Where is all this information located? Mandatory information on a wine label can be located on either the back or front of the bottle. When looking at the back labels, however, you may find inconsistency in description as some wineries describe the wine’s flavors and aromas or give the winery’s history. If you find a blend with a back label that breaks down the compositional percentage of the various grape varieties, I find these to be most helpful.