Wine labeling guide: EU and Non-EU regulations

Wine labeling: comprehensive guide on regulations

Labeling wine is a delicate and crucial activity. When it comes to wine, labeling is not just a detail but an authentic expression of what is inside the bottle. It’s a bridge between producer and consumer, a language that speaks of the land, tradition and quality. 

In this guide, we will explore the importance of wine labeling for both producers and consumers, shedding light on global regulations and offering practical advice for adapting to different markets.

Importance of wine labeling for producers and consumers 

Wine labeling is not just a bureaucratic formality; it represents a fundamental aspect for both producers and consumers, significantly impacting the entire consumption experience and product perception. 

For producers 

  • Market differentiation: In an increasingly competitive wine landscape, a well-designed and informative label can be a key element in distinguishing one’s product. Through the label, producers can communicate their story, style, and approach to wine production, creating an emotional connection with consumers.
  • Value communication: The wine label is essential for conveying information about the product’s quality, origin, and characteristics. Indications such as the designation of origin, the grape variety used, and the production method allow producers to highlight the intrinsic value of their wine. 
  • Regulatory compliance: Besides being a marketing tool, the wine label is also a legal document subject to strict regulations and standards. Ensuring it complies with current laws is crucial to avoid penalties and legal disputes that could damage the producer’s reputation. 

 For consumers 

  • Purchase guide: For consumers, the label serves as a compass during the purchase, offering details such as origin, grape variety, vintage, and alcohol content, helping them assess the wine’s quality and characteristics before buying it. 
  • Consumption experience: The wine label contributes to the overall consumption experience, adding an element of charm and intrigue to the tasting. A well-designed label can evoke positive emotions, enhance the pleasure of tasting and create an emotional bond with the product. 
  • Transparency and trust: In an era where consumers value transparency, the label is a guarantee of quality and reliability. 

Overview of global wine labeling regulations 

Wine labeling regulations vary considerably from country to country and can significantly influence the marketing and distribution of the product on an international level. To fully understand the global regulatory context of wine labeling, it is essential to examine the guidelines established by international organizations and the specific regulations adopted by individual countries. 

International Organizations 

  • The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV): Founded in 1924, the OIV is the world reference organization for the wine sector, responsible for developing and harmonizing oenological regulations and practices. The OIV issues recommendations and guidelines on wine labeling that are adopted by many member countries. 
  • Codex Alimentarius: The Codex Alimentarius is a joint commission of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, tasked with developing international food standards, including for wine. The Codex guidelines on wine labeling provide a reference framework for many countries around the world. 

National Regulations 

  • European Union (EU): In Europe, wine labeling is regulated by the new common rules established by the EU, included in the EU Regulation 2021/2117, which came into force on March 8, 2024. These regulations set mandatory requirements for indications such as denomination of origin, grape variety, vintage, and alcohol content. 
  • United States: In the United States, wine labeling is primarily regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which sets detailed requirements for the labels of wines produced and marketed in the USA. TTB regulations include mandatory indications such as denomination of origin, alcohol content, and health warnings. 
  • Australia: In Australia, bottle labeling is regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), which sets standards for mandatory label information, including the indication of variety, vintage, and alcohol content. Additionally, Australia has specific directives for the labeling of organic and vegan wines. 
  • China: China has continually evolving rules regarding label indications, influenced by the growing interest of Chinese consumers in imported wines. These labels must meet precise criteria, including the denomination of origin, quality certification, and importer details. 

EU Regulations on wine labeling 

The European Union regulations, governed by EU Regulations 1169/2011 and 33/2019, establish detailed criteria that producers of fermented beverages must adhere to in order to ensure their product markings are compliant. Below, we will explore some crucial aspects of these regulations, accompanied by explanatory tables for better understanding.

All bottles produced and imported within the specified dates must include information on ingredients, allergens, energy, and nutrition, in accordance with Regulation (EU) 2021/2117. Allergenic substances and elements that can cause intolerances must be clearly indicated on the product or physically attached to it, while information on ingredients and nutritional values can optionally be disclosed via “electronic means,” such as QR codes.

Wines that do not comply with the requirements will be withdrawn from the market and may be subject to fines according to the law, with enforcement carried out at the level of individual Member States. Details can be found in Regulation (EU) 1306/2013, Chapter IV, Article 89. 

Font size and label translation 

According to EU Regulation 1169/2011, the font size used on the wine label must be at least 1.2 mm to ensure clear legibility. Additionally, it’s mandatory to translate the text into the language of the Member State where the product is marketed, especially to highlight the presence of allergenic substances.

Requirement  Description 
Font Height  At least 1.2 mm 
Label Translation  Mandatory in the language of the Member State where the product is marketed, especially to indicate allergens 

Mandatory information on the label 

EU Regulation 33/2019 specifies the mandatory information that must be displayed on bottles, including the category designation, actual alcoholic strength by volume, nominal volume, country of production, indication of the bottler and more.

Mandatory Information  Description 
Category Designation  Indicates the type of wine, such as “Wine,” “Sparkling Wine,” “Fortified Wine,” etc. 
Actual Alcoholic Strength by Volume  Expressed in % vol, represents the percentage of alcohol in the beverage. 
Nominal Volume  Expressed in liters (L) or milliliters (ml), indicates the amount of liquid product contained in the bottle. 
Country of Production  Indicates the country where the wine was produced. 
Indication of the Bottler  Name and address of the company that bottled the product. 
Indication of the Importer  Mandatory only for imported wines, indicates the name and address of the importer. 
Sugar Content  Only for sparkling wines and similar, indicates the sugar content present in the blend, expressed in grams per liter (g/L) or other specific parameters. 
Vintage Year  Optional for some wines, such as vintage sparkling wines, indicates the harvest year of the grapes used to produce the beverage. 
Presence of Allergens  Mandatory to highlight the presence of allergenic substances, such as sulfites, followed by a specific pictogram. 

Table of Permitted Tolerances for Alcoholic Strength 

EU Regulation 33/2019 specifies the permitted tolerances for the actual alcoholic strength by volume, which vary depending on the category of alcoholic beverages.

Description of Beverages  Permitted Tolerance 
Beers with less than 5,5% vol  +/- 0,5% vol 
Beers with more than 5,5% vol  +/- 1% vol 
Beverages containing fruit  +/- 0,5% vol 
Other beverages with >1,2% vol  +/- 0,3% vol 

Note: EU Regulation 33/2019 provides specific tolerances for certain categories of wine, such as DOP and IGP.

 

Grapes and denominations 

The section “Grapes and denominations” typically refers to the variety of grapes used in wine production and the denominations associated with those grapes. 

Let’s explore what this entails in more detail: 

  1. Grapes: it refers to the specific varieties of grapes used in wine production. Each grape variety has unique characteristics that influence the flavor, aroma, and structure of the wine. Common examples of grape varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Riesling. The choice of grape variety is crucial in determining the style and quality of the wine. 
  2. Denominations: Denominations are specific geographical regions that have received legal recognition for wine production. These can vary significanty in terms of climate, soil, and altitude, all of which influence the characteristics of the product from that region. Some famous examples of denominations include Bordeaux in France, Chianti in Italy, Napa Valley in California, and Barossa Valley in Australia. Denominations can also be divided into sub-regions or sub-districts that may have specific rules regarding the permitted grape varieties, cultivation practices, and winemaking methods.

Which grape variety can be indicated on the label of a varietal or non-denomination wine? 

According to European regulations, it’s possible to indicate the main or dominant grape variety used in the production of varietal or non-denomination wine on the label. This practice is allowed in compliance with the rules established by the European Union directive governing the geographical indication and designation of origin of products. 

 For example, a wine produced primarily with grapes from a particular variety, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, can be labeled with the name of that variety. However, it is important to note that regulations regarding the indication of grape varieties may vary according to the national and regional laws of EU Member States.

For which wines is it possible not to indicate the designation of origin on the label? 

There are situations where it is possible to produce and market wines without indicating a specific designation of origin on the label. These wines, commonly known as “wines without geographical indication” or “table wines“, can result from a blend of grapes from different regions or vineyards.

The decision not to indicate a designation of origin may be motivated by the desire to emphasize the wine’s style or to provide producers with greater flexibility in selecting and blending grapes. However, these wines must still meet the quality and safety requirements established by the EU. 

Labeling for non-eu countries 

Labeling for non-EU countries requires a set of specific information to be included on the packaging of alcoholic beverages, following the regulations of the individual countries. 

Below are the main labeling requirements for some non-EU countries:

Country  Mandatory Label Information 
Svizzera  Product designation – Name and address of the producer and importer – Actual alcoholic strength – Nominal volume – Country of origin (if necessary) – Indication “treated with ionizing radiation” or “irradiated” (if applicable) -Vintage for wine (if relevant) – Lot number – Instructions for use and storage (if necessary) – Presence of allergens or substances causing intolerances. 
Russian Federation  Product designation – Country of origin – Indication of the importer – Product volume – Production lot – Alcoholic strength % vol – Sugar content (for specific categories) – List of ingredients (excluded for some categories) – Additional information specific to product type. 
China  Wine classification (color, sugar content, carbon dioxide content) – Sugar content – Harvest year – Grape variety (if applicable) – Country and wine region – Lot number – List of ingredients (only additives) – Alcoholic strength by volume – Name and address of the producer and local distributor – Production and shelf life date (if applicable) – Net volume – Production license – Warnings.
Japan  Designation – Food additives – Alcoholic strength – Net weight or volume – Country of origin – Importer and retailer indications – Distributor address (if different) – Excessive consumption warning. 
South Korea  Beverage name – Country of origin – Product type – Volume – Name and phone number of the importer – Alcoholic strength by volume – List of ingredients – List of used additives – Bottling date (if applicable) – Consumption and prohibition warnings – Name of the distribution channel. 
United States of America  Designation – Brand – Type – Name and address of the producer – Country of origin – Net content – Alcoholic strength – Name and address of the importer – Consumer health warnings. 
Canada  Designation in French and English – Country of origin in French and English – Alcoholic strength – Net content – Grape production vintage – color – Name and address of the producer – Universal product code – Production lot. 
Mexico  Designation – Trade name – Name and address of the producer – Country of origin – Name, designation, or business name and fiscal address of the importer – Alcohol content – Bottle volume – Lot number – Consumer health warning.
Brazil  Designation – Importer representative – Address – Indication of the producer – Country of origin – Alcoholic strength – Volume – Bottling date – Responsible consumption warning.
Australia  Designation – Country of origin – Name and address of the producer – Volume – Alcoholic strength – Bottle quantity – Bottling date – Pregnancy and responsible consumption warnings.

Best practices for adapting to different markets 

Best practices for adapting to different markets require a deep understanding of consumer preferences and the specific regulations of each market. It’s important to adopt a flexible approach to wine labeling to ensure legal compliance and meet the needs of local consumers. 

This can include translating label texts into the languages of target markets, adjusting sizes and formats to comply with current laws, and including relevant information for consumers in those markets. Additionally, employing innovative technologies such as dynamic QR codes allows wineries to offer extra and personalized content depending on the user’s geographical location. 

How to read and interpret wine labels 

Correctly reading and interpreting wine labels is essential for consumers to understand the product’s characteristics and make informed choices. Some key points to consider include: 

  • Denomination of Origin: Indicates the geographic area where the grapes were grown, offering insights into the provenance and characteristics of the terroir. 
  • Grape Variety: For varietal wines, the label will indicate the main grape variety used in production, providing information on the wine’s style and flavor. 
  • Vintage Year: Indicates the year the grapes used in production were harvested, influencing the taste and overall quality of the product. 
  • Alcohol Content: Indicates the percentage of alcohol in the wine, important for regulating consumption and understanding its effect on the body. 
  • Nutritional Information: Current regulations require the inclusion of information on allergies, energy, and nutrition, allowing consumers to make more informed health choices.

The importance of transparency and information for consumers 

Transparency and information are fundamental for building consumer trust in the wine industry. Providing detailed information on the origin, ingredients, and nutritional characteristics of wines promotes greater awareness and confidence in the product.

Transparency on the wine label allows informed choices, addressing specific dietary needs, personal preferences, and ethical considerations. It also promotes greater social and environmental responsibility among producers, encouraging them to adopt sustainable and ethical practices throughout the production chain. 

Future trends and innovations in wine labeling 

Future trends in wine labeling include the adoption of increasingly advanced technologies to enhance the consumer experience and ensure regulatory compliance. Beyond the extensive use of dynamic QR codes, it is likely that smart sensors will be integrated into wine labels to monitor product quality, and blockchain tracking solutions will be implemented to guarantee provenance and authenticity.

There is also expected to be a greater focus on sustainable and eco-friendly labeling, with the use of biodegradable and recyclable materials and the adoption of low-impact printing practices. We have discussed this in detail in a previous blog post; read it now! 

In conclusion, the new European Union wine labeling regulations represent an opportunity to improve transparency, quality, and information for consumers. Wineries must adopt innovative and compliant practices to meet consumer demands and remain competitive in the global market. 

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