How To Read A Wine Label: The Old World

Learn How To Read An Old World Wine Label

When I refer to Old World wines, I mean wines made in the European wine regions of France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal and any wine regions along the Mediterranean. This is a misnomer of sorts on my part because usually when one cites Old World, they are referring to the production style of the wine. But for the basics of wine label reading, I’ll be using Old World to describe region. It just makes it easier. You can shove a pencil in the eye of the snob who disagrees.

Old World wine labels are tricky as each country has its own hierarchy of restrictions and guidelines for labeling. Being that it’s a lengthy topic, I’m going to break it up into several posts and cover each Old World wine region separately. If you want to get to the meat of the matter, you can jump to each label below:

French wine labels

Italian wine labels

German wine labels

Here’s the link to How To Read A New World Wine Label if you missed it.

There’s quite a difference between the two regions where wine labels are concerned. New World wines, like wines produced in America, have fewer restrictions guiding their production than say wines produced in France, because the original focus in large wine production areas like California was on the winery, not the wine region.

As most of the New World wines follow American guidelines toward what information is put on wine labels, Old World wines pretty much follow the French system of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC, meaning ‘controlled name of origin’. It’s a confusing system at first glance, but region plays an essential role to how Old World wine is classified.

This regional structure follows two general tiers of wine classification in the Old World:

  • table wine
  • and quality wine

Table Wine

Table wines have two distinctions within themselves. Either they come from an overall wine region of a country, with no specific geography, the wine grapes used in the production will come from anywhere within the country’s wine region, and will simply say ‘table wine’ on the label or they will come from a general region, follow liberal rules of production and have a designation on the wine label like Vin de Pays (pronounced van-duh-payEE), which is a French designation and means ‘country wine’ or as with Italy, the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) designation and so forth.

Quality Wine

If you like acronyms you’ll love this one: QWpsr (or Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions). These wines have more specific designations regarding geographic origin and production method. This doesn’t mean they are than table wines; it’s just that more attention is paid to production and the grapes come from a more centralized locale.

As with table wines, QWPSR have two classifications of themselves: Lower Status and Higher Status. Here’s a perfect example of how Old World wine labels are tricky. While you don’t see too many Lower Status wines in France, labeled Vin Délimité de Qualité Supériere, pronounced van-duh-LIM-E–tay-duh KA-ley-TAY sue-PEE-ree-or (I would stick with calling it VDQS) and there aren’t many in production, Lower Status QWpsr make up 95% of German wines, marked QbA or Qualitätswein bestimmte Anbaugebiete. This makes the sub-category a necessity.

Higher Status QWpsr are highly regulated and follow strict guidelines of production, if you couldn’t guess that. These stringent regulations mandate everything production related such as where a vineyard is planted, vines per acre, varieties, etc.

If you’re confused by any of this, well, it’s to be expected. Let’s break it down, though, to its basics. You have two types of wine in the Old World: table wine and quality wine. You should understand what those are now.

From there you have four sub categories, two in each main category:

    Table Wines
  • Without a Specific Geography
  • With a Loosely Specified Geography
    Quality Wines: Have Specific Geographies
  • Lower Status
  • Higher Status

Over the next several posts I will discuss the specifics on the wine labels of France, Italy and Germany as they are the ones that are most confusing.

Click the link to learn how to read a French wine label.

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Related Articles:

  1. How To Read A Wine Label: New World Style

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