The grape escape

Decoding the wine label

Jul 21, 2010 at 5:00 am

Staring befuddled at the hundreds of wine labels lined up on the wine shop shelves? Choosing a bottle of wine may seem more confusing than grabbing a six-pack of Coke or Bud Light, but the depth of information on the wine label reflects the lovable complexity of the beverage. With wine, you’ve got choices.

You probably don’t have much trouble figuring out a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is made from Pinot Noir grapes grown on the Sonoma County coast in California.

But what the heck is Vernaccia di San Gimignano?

Want a little help decoding the wine label? Get familiar with four simple facts that appear on just about every bottle:

1. The producer or winery.

2. The country, state or region where the grapes were grown. This may be as broad as “California” or “France,” or as narrow as a specific vineyard — “Wehlener Sonnenuhr,” anyone?

3. Vintage: the year in which the grapes were harvested.

4. Variety: the specific grape or grapes from which the wine was made. Pinot Noir, for example, or Chardonnay, or Merlot, or in the case of the quiz question above, Vernaccia. Not all wines disclose varietal content. Most French and some Italian wines list only the region.

So today’s featured wine (purchased at Gemelli Wine & Spirits, 3626 Brownsboro Road, 895-1400), was made by Poderi del Paradiso from Vernaccia grapes of the 2007 harvest in the historic Tuscan village of San Gimignano.

It’s a bright straw color with glints of gold and an appealing aroma of ripe pears with subtle back notes of beeswax and bitter almond. Good body and texture, white fruit balanced with fresh acidity, with a pleasant touch of bitterness in the finish.