American wine labels

In the United States, labeling and other aspects of the sale of wine are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Vintage

If the label shows a vintage year, 95% of the wine must have come from grapes harvested in that year, and the label must give an appellation of origin other than the name of a country.

Varietal name

Since 1983, for a bottle of American wine to be labeled with the name of a varietal (a variety of grape, such as “cabernet” or “riesling”), 75% of the wine must have come from that variety of grape. (27CFR4.34(a)) In 1996, the rule was revised to

There are some exceptions to these rules:

The listing of approved varietal names reflected a great deal of research into the origins and identity of various varieties of grapevine, newly invigorated by the development of new laboratory tests (e.g., DNA testing). The listing had a major effect.  A few examples: 

Type designations

Not all wines are varietals.  The Bureau also recognizes generic names (like “Vermouth” and “Sake”) and semi-generic names, such as “Burgundy,” “Claret,” “Rhine Wine” and “Sherry”.  If a name carries some geographic connotation, the wine label must state an appellation of origin, so that the buyer knows his champagne comes from California and his Rhine Wine from New York. 

For American wines, the Bureau authorizes the following special type designations, to be used only in conjunction with an appellation of origin.

Appellation of origin

The Bureau recognizes six types of American appellation of origin:

American Viticulture Areas (AVA’s)

New areas are constantly being proposed; the list is updated annually (see the Code of Federal Regulations Chapter 27, Part 9.  The actual boundaries of the areas can be found at www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_05/27cfr9_05.html  

The AVA’s are listed below approximately in the order of their establishment.

Varietal names approved by the Bureau of ATF

Alternative varietal names permitted for temporary use

During a transition period, regulations permit the temporary use of certain traditional varietal names that ultimately will be banned.

Alternative Names of Varietals
Permitted on Wine Bottled before
1 January 1997
Alternative Name Prime Name
Baco 1 Baco noir
Baco 22A Baco blanc
Bastardo Trousseau
Black Spanish Lenoir
Burdin 7705 Florental
Cayuga Cayuga White
Chancellor noir Chancellor
Chasselas Chasselas doré
Chevrier Semillon
Chelois noir Chelois
Couderc 71-20 Couderc noir
Couderc 299-35 Muscat du Moulin
Foch Maréchal Foch
Franken Riesling Sylvaner
Gutedel Chasselas doré
Ives Seedling Ives
Jacquez Lenoir
Joannes Seyve 26-205 Chambourcin
Landot 244 Landal
Landot 4511 Landot noir
Millot Leon Millot
Moore's Diamond Diamond
Norton Seedling Norton
Pfeffer Cabernet Cabernet Pfeffer
Pineau de la Loire Chenin blanc
Pinot Chardonnay Chardonnay
Ravat 262 Ravat noir
Rulander Pinot gris
Seibel 128 Salvador
Seibel 1000 Rosette
Seibel 4986 Rayon d'Or
Seibel 5279 Aurore
Seibel 5898 Rougeon
Seibel 7053 Chancellor
Seibel 8357 Colobel
Seibel 9110 Verdelet
Seibel 9549 De Chaunac
Seibel 10878 Chelois
Seibel 13053 Cascade
Seibel 14596 Bellandais
Seyve-Villard 5-276 Seyval
Seyve-Villard 12-309 Roucaneuf
Seyve-Villard 12-375 Villard blanc
Seyve-Villard 18-283 Garronet
Seyve-Villard 18-315 Villard noir
Seyve-Villard 23-410 Valerien
Sweetwater Chasselas doré
Verdelet blanc Verdelet
Vidal 256 Vidal blanc
Virginia Seedling Norton
Walschriesling Welsch Rizling
Welschriesling Welsch Rizling

 

Alternative Names of Varietals
Permitted on Wine Bottled before
1 January 1999
Alternative Name Prime Name
CabernetCabernet Sauvignon
Grey RieslingTrousseau gris
Johannisberg RieslingRiesling
Muscat FrontignanMuscat blanc
Muscat PantelleriaMuscat of Alexandria
Napa GamayValdiquié
Pinot Saint GeorgeNegrette
Sauvignon vertMuscadelle

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