Russ Winton: Wine List

Wine Line: Tips to reading wine labels

Russ Winton

I am sure most of you know how easy it is to find your favorite wine in your local supermarket.

If you like chardonnay, you head to the wine aisle and find the chardonnay section.

What could be easier?

What more do you need to know?

Well, by scanning the shelves and reading the labels, you can learn much more about the wine than you possibly thought.

The most important information is the producer's name -- the largest word printed on the label.

If the label says chardonnay, then a minimum of 75 percent of the wine must be from that grape variety.

If the wine has a vintage date, say 2005, then 95 percent of the grapes must have been harvested in that year.

If the wine is designated "California," then 100 percent of the grapes must have been grown in California.

If the label has a specific location such as Los Carneros, Napa Valley or Livermore Valley, this would refer to a federally approved viticultural area (AVA). There are 94 AVAs in California and 85 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must have grown in that AVA.

If an individual vineyard is mentioned, then 95 percent of the grapes must be from the named vineyard that is located within an approved AVA.

By law, the alcohol content in percentages must be on the label.

The legal limits for table wine are between 7 and 13.9 percent, with a 1.5 percent allowance either way. If you see "produced and bottled by" that means that at least 75 percent of the wine was fermented by the winery on the label. "Cellared and bottled by" indicates that the winery purchased the wine, stored it, bottled it and then put their label on the finished product.

Finally, don't forget to read the back label.

With more than 800 California chardonnays available, I suggest you take your time and read what the winery says about the wine.

What style is the wine?

Is it oaky and buttery or the crisp green-apple style?

The back label will also make suggestions for foods that the wine will compliment.

Zinfandel tips

One very important item I forgot to mention in the last column is that red wine should be served at room temperature.

So what is "room temperature" when you are out at the barbecue, cooking ribs?

"Room temperature," when referring to wine, is 65 to 70 degrees. So yes, it is not only OK but sometimes necessary to chill your red wine.

A panel of well-respected wine judges met in Lodi recently to taste 48 zinfandels. Their goal was to select the top 12 Lodi zins. Their selections ranged in price from $7 to $59, with the average price being $24. The $7 wine that made the cut is the 2007 Talus Zinfandel.

I haven't tasted it yet but I'm certainly on the look-out for it.

What's On Our Table

2008 Montes Cherub Rose of Syrah

This is a very elegant, dry, rich and classy rose' with hints of strawberries, rose and some syrah spiciness with a brilliant pink color and a rich textured mouthfeel. It's a beautiful wine and perfect for all summer dishes. It lists for $17, but I found it at Costco for around $13.


Questions? Comments? Suggestions? You can reach me at