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Fine print on wine labels worth a closer look
October 30, 2012 - Anita Hanaburgh
The fine-looking gentleman held the bundle with great care. He cradled the precious entity, swaddled in white linen, in his arms. He presented it to me.
I looked with anticipation as he gently removed the soft cloth to reveal its familiar face. I gingerly ran my fingers over each detailed part, carefully looking for flaws. Perfect. I relaxed and nodded my approval, indicating the bearer should continue with the delivery.
I had ordered a bottle of Kendall Jackson 2004 Merlot Grand Reserve, and the waiter was now permitted to serve it to me.
Before opening the bottle, the waiter sought my approval. How? He displayed the label and waited for me to absorb all its information. Based upon my acceptance of that label, the waiter then opened the ordered bottle.
Why did the waiter show the label before opening the bottle? Easy answer: To make sure it was the wine I ordered. To make sure it was the wine I would pay for.
Few things about fine wine are more daunting than the wine-bottle label. All that small print! All those foreign words and terms! But how much “labelese” does one really need to know?
First of all, you need to know what you order. You need to pay attention. Many of us pass the wine list around or discuss it with the table: “Do you want the Kendall Jackson?” “The Tin Roof Merlot costs more.” “I would prefer a Cabernet.” “I don’t care.”
Then we order the Kendall Jackson Merlot and hand the wine list back to the waiter. When the bottle arrives, we see the Kendall Jackson label and say, “fine, fine.”
But is it really fine? Maybe the wine list said a vintage 2004 and this one is a 2005. Could be a really bad year. Did the wine list say it was a cellar select or grand reserve? A restaurant usually will tell you if it does not have the exact wine you are ordering. Sometimes, the restaurant will substitute a comparable wine. Sometimes the wine list gets outdated, and sometimes, like most humans, a wait person can make a mistake.
Even if you don’t care that the date changed, you are still receiving and paying for something that you did not order. The reliability of the restaurant’s wine reserve is important. Note what you ordered or, better yet, keep the wine list and check it against the wine label. This is also an excellent way to learn about wines and keep the servers on their toes.
Wine labels from different countries contain different information in different spots. Refer to the illustration at right:?
1) All labels list the winemaker or winery. This is the company that makes the wine. It may be a trademark name. In the United States, this name is listed at the top center of the label. It is usually over the logo or picture associated with the trademark.
2) Directly under the logo, the variety is listed in U.S. wines. This is the specific kind of grape from which the wine is made. For many, this is the name of the wine that is familiar to us: Merlot, Pinot Grigio, etc.
3)?Next is listed the vintage. This is the year when the grapes were harvested, not the year when the wine was bottled, which could be years later. 4)?Under the vintage, the appellation is listed. This is the state or region where the grapes for this wine are grown. This may be as broad as “California” or narrower, as in “Napa Valley.” It can even be as narrow as listing a specific vineyard.
5)?Next, we will see the name of the place or company where the wine is bottled. If it is bottled at the winery, it will say “estate bottled.” If bottled in the United States, it must contain an address somewhere on the label. The producer also may list its website or a telephone number. Imported wines normally bear the name of the company that imported the wine.
All wine labels must carry small print disclosing the wine’s approximate alcoholic content and the size of the bottle. This is often printed vertically along the right side of the label.
The back labels of wines sold in the U.S. are typically decked out with the required consumer warnings such as the notorious Surgeon General’s warning and whether the wine contains sulfites.
Vineyards often print additional merchandising information on the label attesting to their reputation or commitment to quality. Some may include comments about their history or the nature of their grape. Reading this helps one to remember the wine.
Now that you know the label is correct, it is time to taste, view and sniff the delivered liquid for final acceptance. Hold that stem — I’ll serve you that information at a later date.
Want to enjoy a lot of labels at once? Then enjoy the Wine and Chocolate Tasting on Nov. 2 from 7 to 9 at St. Patrick’s Masonic Lodge in Johnstown. This popular, excellent event benefits the NOAH Free Community Meals program presented by St. John’s Episcopal Church.
For information and tickets, visit www.winechocolate.org or call 762-9210 — and be sure to read the label!
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