Do look out for words and phrases like:
AOC/DO/DOC/DOCG/IPR: These terms are appellations that European wine-producing countries use to indicate higher or special quality wines.
Grand Cru or Premier Cru: A French term that describes a vineyard of high quality. Only the top 1% of Burgundy wines can be labelled Grand Cru, while just 10% of Burgundies can be called Premier Cru.
Gran Reserva: Describes a wine that has been bottled for at least 5 years.
Mis en bouteille au chateau/domaine/a la propriete/Gutsabfüllung: This is your guarantee of a special wine that has been bottled within its producing estate.
Vieilles Vignes: Identifies wines fermented from grapes grown on old vines with lower grape yields but richer flavours.
Don’t be taken in by impressive sounding terms like Superieur or Grand Vin. The former simply means a higher alcohol level while the latter identifies a vineyard’s main rather than best wine. While it means extra aging and commonly appears on bottles, Reserve is a word that is effectively meaningless as it is backed by no accepted standard.
Useful terms to look out for on French wine labels include Blanc (white), Rouge (red), Grand Cru (a top quality vineyard), Cuvee (the blend of grapes or wines) and Domaine (estate).
As most wines from Germany are sweetish Rieslings, German wine labels include not only basic information such as the producer, region, vintage, vineyard and variant, etc. They also provide details of ripeness, sugar levels plus a 5-stage quality classification that stretches from simple table wine (Tafelwein) all the way up to Qualitätsweine mit Prädikat (QmP or Quality wine with attributes). Dry wines are labeled Trocken, while off-dry variants bear Halbtrocken labels and sweeter Rieslings are designated as being Beernauslese (BA) or Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) wines.
As Italy has fully 37 designated wine growing regions and over 2,000 grape types, be sure to read Italian wine labels very carefully! In addition to estate and producer names, alcohol content and year of production, each wine should also be classified as being Vdt, IGT, DOC, DOCG depending on its volume, origin and quality.
New World wines
Like their producing nations, New World wine labels from countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa tend to be very down-to-earth and outgoing, telling you all they need to know on their front label. Each bottle’s rear label will generally offer you with useful food pairing tips for the particular wine contained inside.