Are wine labels required by law to list the alcohol percentage?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have always been under the impression that federal regulations require a winery to print a wine's alcohol content somewhere on its label. But last night we enjoyed a bottle of 1993 Spottswoode Cabernet ... and no ABV was to be found. My wife and I both searched the labels more than once. Is the alcohol listing just voluntary?

—John S., Carrollton, Texas

Dear John,

First off, I checked with Spottswoode's Beth Milliken to make sure you didn't miss anything, and you didn't. That label on the 1993 Spottswoode does not have an alcohol percentage listed. But it's perfectly legal.

According to federal law, alcohol content needs to be listed in wines containing more than 14 percent alcohol. If it's less than 14 percent alcohol, vintners can choose if they want to list the alcohol, or they can simply call it "table wine" or "light wine."

In the case of the 1993 Spottswoode, it was less than 14 percent, so they went with the designation "table wine" on the front label. Milliken said, "We quickly realized that this nomenclature was appropriate for use in the U.S. only, and the use of this term was problematic when we were exporting our wine. So, we went back to putting the actual alcohol level on the label."

—Dr. Vinny

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