ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

Does the order in which the grapes/varietals are listed on the label signify anything, like in ingredients on food products listed in order of which has the most to the least?

—Bruce L., Corona, Calif.

Dear Bruce,

Yes, in the United States, if grape types are listed on a wine label, they’re listed in descending order, as regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB.

But it’s a little more complicated than that. Remember that a wine can be labeled with the name of just one grape variety, but by law, only 75 percent of the wine must be made from that grape. So a winemaker can put only “Merlot” on the label, but not account for the up to 25 percent that isn’t Merlot.

If a wine is a blend of several grapes, the winery might want to keep that blend proprietary, and that’s up to them—they can choose to just give the wine a name like “Vinny’s Red Blend.” But if a winery lists the grapes on the label, the TTB requires they be listed in order of predominance. There’s still some wiggle room, even in this scenario—a minimum of 85 percent of the wine needs to be represented by the grape varieties listed, and every variety contributing at least 5 percent of the total volume must be listed. So a small amount of the total percentage can still be unaccounted for.

You might notice that sometimes a winery chooses to list percentages of each grape that’s inside the bottle. In that case, the TTB allows a plus-or-minus tolerance of 2 percent, all the varieties have to be listed, and the total of the percentages has to equal 100 percent.

—Dr. Vinny


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