Wine Vocabulary

Wine Bottle table number
Have you ever scratched your head wondering what some of the terms on a wine label mean?  I thought I’d take a little time to explain the terminology you might see on a typical wine label.

Dry – this means the wine has no, or very little, sugar left in it.  Semi-dry, semi-sweet, and sweet wines will have incrementally larger amounts of sugar, so they will taste sweet.  There are no legally-defined parameters for each designation though, so be aware that one winery’s dry wine might be another’s semi-sweet! (Just a good excuse to taste the wine first!)

Table Wine – This is a term used by the alcohol taxation regulators to indicate a wine that has between 7 and 14% alcohol in it.  It is taxed at a lower level that wine that has between 14 and 20% alcohol.  As long as the term ‘table wine’ is on the label, a winery is not required to state the alcohol level of that particular wine (although they must make sure the wine is actually between 7-14% alcohol!).  This saves a whole lot of money on label printing since each vintage can bring in slightly different alcohol levels.

AVA or American Viticultural Area – this term refers to specially defined geographic areas in the US where grapes are grown & wine is made (for instance, Napa Valley is a widely-known AVA in the US).

Producers in an AVA can claim that particular designation if the grapes were grown and created into wine within that geographic area.  Peaceful Bend is in the “Ozark Highland” AVA, but if we buy grapes from the St. Louis area, we cannot claim that AVA on the label.  Similarly, if a St. Louis winery bought grapes from here, they also could not claim the Ozark Highland AVA since they didn’t make the wine here.

Some geographic designations are as simple as ‘Missouri’ or ‘American’.  For each of the AVA or geographical designations, the winery must be able to show that at least 75% of the wine in that particular bottle came from where it claims to originate.

I hope this information helps a bit as you check out wine labels!  If you have other wine terms that you want me to try to define for you, please ask about them in the comments below.  Cheers!