Wine 101

This section of our website is designed to share information that we have collected or written about wine since we began in 1999.  You may find articles written by our friends in the industry or information about our last private tasting!  We are eager to keep our network of wine enthusiasts as informed as possible on the up and coming trends and new educational developments in the world of wine.  Make sure to send us feedback on what you would like to see in this section.  It is designed for you!

What is a Wine Varietal?

How to Open a Bottle!

Navigating a Wine List!

Grapes to Glass Process

Expanded Wine Varietals List

Wine Glossary

Start Your Own Wine Group


Unofficial guideThe beauty of a California wine label is in its simplicity. Since most California wines carry the name of the grape variety from which they are made, Choosing one can be as simple as selecting a crowd-pleasing grape variety like Sauvignon Blanc for whites or Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot for reds in your price range. If you have a favorite winery, that's all the better. For those who look for details, California wine labels are packed with useful information that will give you a better idea of what to expect in the bottle, whether you are looking for a rich, buttery Chardonnay to enjoy with your fettuccine Alfredo or a peppery Zinfandel to perk up your steak au poivre.


Label with arrows

1. Grape Variety - This is the year the grapes were harvested. If the vintage date appears on the label, at least 95% of the wine must be from that vintage. UNDERNEATH - This is the grape variety. If the variety is on the label, the wine must contain at least 75% of the named grape, though many wineries use 100%. Vintage -

2. Name of the Winery or brand name.

3. Wine Region - This tells you where the grapes came from. If the specific wine region or "American Viticultural Area" like Napa is on the label, at least 85% of the grapes must come from that region. If the wine is labeled by county, such as Mendocino County, a minimum of 75% of the grapes must come from that county. Even if the wine region on the label is simply "California," as in many well-priced wines, you can be assured that 100% of the grapes are from California.

4. Vineyard - Sometimes you'll see the name of a specific vineyard on the label, which indicates that a minimum of 95% of the grapes came from one particular vineyard.

5. "Produced and Bottled By" indicates that the wine producer also is the bottler of the wine, and "Estate Bottled," means the wine was also made from grapes grown on the producer's property.

6. Winemaking Information - Optional terms like "barrel fermented," "sur lie," and "oak aged" provide more clues about the style and flavor of the bottle. All of these terms point to a toasty, oaky, and more complex wine. Special tip: Some winemakers include their tasting notes and food recommendations on the back label.

7. Location of Bottler - The location of the producer or bottler will also appear on this line

8. Alcohol by Volume - In a table wine, the alcohol level ranges from 8.5-14%, give or take a small percentage.

9. Bottle Size - The volume of the bottle contents. 750 ml is a standard size bottle and is the equivalent of 25.4 ounces, or about five glasses or wine.

Felicia M. Sherbert is a contributor and the author of The Unofficial Guide to Selecting Wine, winner of the 2000 Georges Duboeuf "Book of the Year" Award (Hungry Minds, Inc.). She is a former senior editor at M. Shanken Communications, publisher of Wine Spectator, Food Arts, and Market Watch. When she is not writing, Felicia conducts private and corporate wine seminars.

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