The seemingly complex collection of details on a wine label can be swiftly decoded. Nearly every winemaking country sets out what must (and must not) be printed on labels. International treaties have harmonized these laws so that wine can be traded across the world bearing labels which will be legal in importing countries. Thus, for example, the New World habit of calling a wine, say, "claret" or "burgundy" — an attempt, of greater or lesser accuracy, to describe the style intended — is fast being discontinued.
What might be called the nonspecific, or legal, information is listed below. Other details, such as place of origin and/or producer, often also appear: they are discussed below under The Importance of Place.
In broad terms, the first thing to look for on a label is the country of origin. This is compulsory and is expressed as, for example, "produce of France".
Then comes the quality level. Not all countries have an official hierarchy, but the
European countries of the EC do. The EC divides wine into table wine — the most basic sort — and quality wine. Quality wine is in the majority in France, Germany and other countries. Within this band are specific national quality categories such as Appellation d'Origine Controlee (France) and Qualitatswein (Germany). If the wine in the bottle is entitled to one of these, the label will say so. It must further tell you which region the wine comes from. This book concentrates on quality wine, which usually gives a clue to its taste on its label. Table wine, by contrast, can make only very general claims to a region — and at its most basic level may even blend grapes from several different countries.
This is the amount in the bottle, which in Europe may be expressed as 75cl or 750ml or 0.751itres
Alcohol content is shown as a percentage or degree.
The vintage is not compulsory information: some wines, such as most champagne and virtually all sherry, are blended from different vintages. If a date is given, national laws will stipulate hov much of the wine must be from tha vintage: it is not always 100%.