Do you ever walk into a wine shop and just pick the bottle with the coolest or fanciest looking label without knowing anything about the wine? You are not alone. Before I worked in wine, I would pick up a bottle at the wine shop and have no idea where to start reading. Sometimes I could recognize the grape variety, but it wouldn’t always be clear on the label. I always wondered what kind of secret code was involved in knowing what a wine would taste based on reading the bottle. Oftentimes I just ended up picking the bottle with a fun label and calling it a day. With the help of knowledgeable staff and learning about different laws and wine regions, reading a wine label became much less of a daunting task.

Let’s dive into how to decode a wine label while shopping for the perfect bottle.


The producer or wine maker will always be visible on the label. The producer’s name can be as simple as the name of the family that owns the winery, or something fun and creative. It is more common to find family names on wines from the old world (Europe) and fun, creative names in the new world (everywhere other than Europe). Of course, there are always exceptions. The Holy Snail by Thierry Delaunay in the Loire Valley absolutely encourages some giggles, and it helps that the wine is delicious, too. The producer’s name is sometimes accompanied by the producer logo, which can be a noble family crest or a thoughtful, modern design. This is typically what will catch the eye of a “label shopper.”


Sometimes the name of the grape or grapes used in a bottle of wine is clearly visible on the label. These can include common grapes, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon, or less common grapes, such as Albarino, Tannat, Petit Verdot, or Gros Manseng. Knowing the names of these grapes comes with practice and exposure. Our staff is always there to help you find you a wine that fits your preferences if you’re unfamiliar with a grape variety.

To make matters more confusing, the grape variety of the wine is not always explicitly listed on the wine label. The wine could be labeled by the region, and you must rely on your knowledge of what grapes are allowed to be grown in that region to determine what is in your wine. For example, wines from Beaujolais are typically labeled by their region, but are 100 percent Gamay. Burgundy is another region that does this. Burgundy reds will always be Pinot Noir, and Burgundy whites will always be Chardonnay.

Wine blends can also be given their own unique name by the producer. This is common in Canadian and U.S. wines. In this case, check the back of the bottle for the blend breakdown.

A common blend seen in Canadian wineries is called “Meritage.” If you see this word on a Canadian wine, it means it is inspired by the famous bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet, and Cabernet Franc. Since this wine is Canadian and not grown in Bordeaux, by law it needs to go by a different name.


The producer and grape variety don’t always tell you what you really want to know about a wine. The region largely determines the winemaking style and overall flavour of the wine. It’s helpful to know the trademark styles of common wine growing regions. For example, a Chardonnay from Napa Valley, California (known for its heavy oak influence), will taste vastly different from a Chardonnay grown in Chablis, France (where oak aging is less common). Try a grape variety you’ve deemed you don’t like from a different region, and you may be surprised by the difference. 


Vintage clothing, vintage cars…oh wait, vintage wine doesn’t mean it’s old? Oftentimes you will see a year on your wine label. This indicates the year the grapes were harvested from the vine. From the year, you can determine what the weather was like the year that the grapes were ripening. Some vintages are much better than others, and it can be beneficial to keep track of which vintages produced exceptional wine. The vintage can also tell you whether the wine is ready to drink or not. If you have a bottle of Bordeaux from a recent vintage, you can let it hang out in the cellar for at least a few years. If you have a Pinot Grigio that is from an older vintage, you might benefit from cracking that sooner rather than later to prevent it from losing its structure and flavour.

If you don’t see a vintage year on the bottle, that means that this wine is non-vintage. A non-vintage wine is produced from harvests from multiple different years. Buying non-vintage wine is a great way to save a few dollars.

Challenge yourself next time you’re at the shop to pick out a wine with a particularly wordy label and see if you can make sense of all the words, then share with the staff or a loved one.