Reading wine labels: Pt. 2

After last week's story I thought I'd better get on track with what I promised you a couple of weeks ago; more on wine labels.

Let's do it:

Label images — So we see engravings, photos and illustrations on wine labels and we think "Wow, this wine has to be good!" Various wineries, chateaux, villages, homes and vineyards displayed on labels used to be the big thing in wine image. In the 1940's through about the late 1980's the Germans (for example) had what had to be the splashiest and most colorful wine labels in the business. Panoramas from the Rhine and Mosel, embossing's seemingly everywhere were the norm. It was almost impossible to read these labels from the filigree and swirls throughout the labels. Not to be outdone, the French in an endless cycle of mediocre Bordeaux, embossed some defunct chateaux on the labels of vin ordinaire and passed the stuff of as "superb" juice. This is the oldest trick in the wine business. Dress a bottle with an image and the plunk will sell. It is important to understand that graphics on labels are meaningless and never, by themselves, indicate the quality of what is in the bottle. I have found that many times the more plain the label, the better the vino is. Be careful.

Medal winners — We see on many bottles affixed gold, silver and bronze winner stickers. I have found that this indicator really, for the most part, is pretty right on. Most of the commercial wine judgings in the past fifteen years or so have met stringent guidelines from very solid judging panels and are run well. Competitions such as the Newport Ore. Seafood and Wine Festival, California State Fair, World of Wine, Seattle Enological, the Pacific Rim, Sonoma County Fair among others are really good indicators of nicer wines which have received medals. Choosing a wine with a medal on the bottle has become an increasingly good way of finding a wine that can really be quite delicious. It is true that some bottles slip through the net of investigation but it is rare and the medal winners, for the most part, are deserving of the gold.

Varietal designations- If a label indicates a certain grape variety, this wine will have a majority of that grape in the bottle. We do see blends out there from time to time with the names such as "Claret" "Proprietor's Blend" or winery names which indicate that the wine may have two or more grape types in the bottle. The feeling used to be that blended wines were much inferior to straight varietal wines but this is no longer the case. When Gallo winery made a "Hearty Burgundy" which was a blend of different red wine grapes we all scoffed that any blend was simply a jug wine without merit. As viticultural techniques advanced, grapes growing in better soil and better land management began to come around the "ordinary" red and white wine grapes became (thankfully) less and less part of the American wine scene. We are now seeing very good bulk wines which are blends coming from all over the world. Today a wine listed as "Cabernet Sauvignon" may not be as good as a high end blend of many grape types. Historically, the very great Bordeaux have often been blends of two or more grape types.

Storage- I want to end this "label" article with a little talk on storage. Yes, it is true that many wines are coming out with screw tops as well as plastic corks. I am still of the opinion that one needs to purchase any corked wines on the shelves being stored correctly, that is, horizontally. We do not know if a wine with a cork is one that is synthetic or made of the real thing. It is best, then, to be on the safe side and choose your wines from those laying down. it takes a very short time for wine to go off if the wine is vertical. If given the choice, go horizontal and save yourself the disappointment! See you next week!

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