Decoding Wine Labels: How to Choose a Good Bottle

wine labels bottles in storage

Since the quarantine began, we’ve basically been stuck inside binging streaming services and sipping glasses of wine on the couch. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course, but you might be curious about branching out your palate. Especially if you are still ignoring wine labels and buying your wine from a box, it might be time to upgrade your tastes.

The truth is, you don’t need to be a sommelier to recognize a good wine. Sure, there are plenty of industry terms you might have heard, like “earthy” or “stony, but you don’t need to know what makes a wine “big” to recognize what you like.

Measuring Acidity

The acidity of wine will determine its tartness. Think of it like biting into a piece of fruit. If you tried to take a bite out of a lemon, the high acidity and tart flavor will make your mouth pucker. A tart wine might give you a slight pucker or tart sensation. A bit further down the tartness scale, you might note hints of what wine connoisseurs call “earthy” flavors, like a root vegetable or even a mushroom. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the lighter and often sweeter fruity flavors.

Is it Fruity or Dry?

Speaking of fruity flavors, a major distinguishing factor in wines is whether it is fruity or dry. Often, it’s also the acid in a wine that gives it a “fruity” or “dry” taste. Dry wines are on the tart end of the wine spectrum, while fruity wines are often labeled “sweet” or “semi-sweet”. For example, sherry and Moscato flavors are fruity and sweet, while sauvignon blanc and chardonnay varieties are dry and tart.

Body and Weight

The amount of alcohol in wine gives it a distinctive “weight” or “body.” If a wine feels heavy and is described as having a full-body, it likely has a high alcohol content. Think of it as drinking milk. Skim milk, similar to a lighter-bodied wine, has a much different drinking sensation than whole milk, which you might compare to full-bodied wine.


This last feature often throws people for a loop. How can a liquid have a texture? In wine, it comes from how much tannin is present. Tannin comes from the peels and stems of grapes and is most often present in red wines. A wine with high tannin will leave your mouth feeling furry, like you just sucked on a cotton ball. It might suddenly be difficult to move your tongue against the roof of your mouth. On the opposite side of that spectrum, wines are described as “soft” when your mouth is left feeling slippery and silky.

So, what’s the secret to becoming a real wine connoisseur? Go with what you like! Do you prefer a sweet treat or a tart, tangy sip? Would you like something easy to drink, or something more complex? Now that you know the difference between these common wine terms, you can try a few different flavors and find your new favorite!

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