Updated: Jun 11, 2020
For people just getting into wine, it can be difficult to determine what may or may not float your boat. There's so many regions and varieties to choose from, I promise you're not alone in feeling like there's too much choice. Fortunately, however, there are several indicators that can be used to determine the standard of a wine simply by looking at the labels.
French wine labels are the easiest to decipher, as France has many different legislation and requirements governing awards to different standards of wines. My personal favourite to look out for is Veilles Veignes, or sometimes simply VV. This denotes old vines (the literal translation), which produce richer, riper and juicier grapes than new vines. Unfortunately the harvest is often less in older vines, meaning that there can be a price to pay for tastier wine, but every once in a while it's definitely worth it.
Secondly, Italian wines operate a DOC/DOCG system, whereby the Italian Government grants DOC status to wines produced in certified appellations, and the top 100 DOC wines are granted DOCG status every year. This is marked by a strip label across the top of the bottle, with the letters DOCG as well as a government-issued serial number. This guarantees that DOCG wines are of the highest quality, and there are no production limitations on DOCG wines meaning they can be picked up from as little at £12 here in the UK. Top examples include Pio Cesare's Barolo and Cantina di Negrar's Amarone.
'Grand Cru' and 'Premier Cru' are French terms for 'good growth' and 'first growth', yet they find their way all over the world. Sadly, this may result in misleading labels as some governments (particularly South American) are less strict when determining what defines 'good growth', and hence wine. This can be a good indicator for European and Aussy wines, however.
Vintages are also worth mentioning, but as with many aspects of viticulture, there's a huge amount of variation depending on regions and grapes. Generally, a 'good year' for a grape is dictated by good weather conditions (i.e. about one day of rain per week of sun) as well as the prevalence of certain plant diseases. Realistically, however, it can be very difficult to separate the taste of different grapes simply by age, meaning that unless you're a seasoned connoisseur I wouldn't bother spending the extra cash on a year with higher ratings.
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