The Three “Gs”…or How to Read a Wine Label

The Three “Gs”…or How to Read a Wine Label

Direct Cellars members have heard me say this a million times, but I’m going to state it once more for those of you who are new to the club:  there is no consumer product in the world that gives you less information about what’s in the container than a wine bottle.  However, there are some keys to reading a label and having some idea about what kind of wine is in the bottle and how it might taste.  Maybe.

If you want to be very sophisticated about this, you can call it the “Three Vs”:  The Varietal, the Vineyard, and the Vintner.  Me, I just call it the Grape, the Ground, and the Guy or Gal who makes the wine.  If you have a handle on these three basics, you stand a good chance of decoding what the juice might be like.

However, there’s one wrinkle to this.  In the New World (US, Australia, South America, New Zealand, South Africa) the producers put the name of the grape on the label.  That’s a big help, for sure.  In the Old World (Italy, Spain, the rest of Europe) the wine is labeled according to where it’s from.  So, you’ll see a bottle that says “Gigondas,” and have no clue what kind of grape the wine is made of, because Gigondas is a village in the south of France.

Fortunately, this is starting to change.  European wineries are beginning – just barely – to put the varietal on the label.  So a bottle of red from Burgundy will say “Pinot Noir”…sometimes.

This is not a problem with the wines that we source privately for our members, because no matter where they’re from, the name of the grape is always displayed.  One problem out of the way.

Grapes, like any other fruit, come in a selection of colors and flavors.  Take apples, for instance.  There are red, yellow, and green ones, all with different flavors, but they’re still all apples.  You expect a Red Delicious to taste one way, and a Granny Smith to taste another.  So if you know the grape varietal, and its flavor characteristics, you’re off to a good start.  Do you taste black currant and other black fruit?  Chances are it’s a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Strawberry?  Maybe a Pinot Noir from California.

Next is the ground – where the wine is made.  Check back on my Tuesday night video about “terroir,” and you’ll discover that variations in soil, elevation, exposure to the sun, drainage and even culture have a lot to do with the flavors and other characteristics that show up in your glass.  The folks in Bordeaux make their wine one way (out of certain traditional grapes) and the people in the Rhône make theirs another way.

Finally, the guy or the gal.  Winemakers all have their own ideas about what their wine should taste like, and what they want to achieve in the cellar.  They’re like chefs.  Give five chefs the same piece of fish, and you’ll get five different dishes.  Fortunately, Direct Cellars makes this part easy.  Our wines are sourced especially for you, and our resident winemaker, Stephen Burch, supervises what goes on in the cellar. 

As a Direct Cellars member, probably the most constructive thing to do is get familiar with the flavor characteristics of different wine grapes.  When I write the tasting cards that accompany your monthly shipment, I try to be as specific about this as possible.  If you have any questions about the wines you receive, or about the world of wine in general, please email me at winewhisperer@directcellars.com.  I’m always happy to help.  Here’s to you!

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