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January 25, 2022

White Label Wines: How to Avoid Bad Wine

How do you know when you’re buying wine that’s actually high quality? Here’s the thing - if you’re purchasing wine at the grocery store, there’s a 98% chance that it comes from one of the ten largest wineries in the U.S. – even if the label on the bottle leads you to believe it’s a small, family winery.

These large, conglomerate wineries (AKA “The Big Guys”) churn out wine like a factory product, oftentimes using football-sized fermentation tanks and chemicals to mask subpar grape quality. 

White label wines are often created by these large, commercial, bulk companies and sold to retailers – similar to other white label products out there on the market.

What are white-label and private-label wines?

While the terms “white label” and “private label” are often used interchangeably in the world of wine, there’s a slight distinction between the two. White label wines are finished, unlabeled bottles from producers or wineries that are then branded with the retailer’s own labels. Private label wines, on the other hand, are typically contracted out with the winemaker according to the retailer’s specifications, so they can be more customized (Trader Joe’s “Two Buck Chuck” is a popular example). 

Technically, on the surface, there’s nothing wrong with white label wines. In fact, the practice is pretty similar to the French negociant, who buys grapes, juice, or finished wine and bottles them under their own name. On Vinebase, we even have some wineries who follow the negociant business model, sourcing from the best vineyards they can find and crafting wines that are reflective of the terroir.

 The issue is when it comes down to the quality and transparency of the finished product. 

The problem with white label wines. 

Oftentimes, white label wines are crafted by large conglomerate wineries. They source their grapes from all over the country, sometimes even the world, little bits here and there, wherever they can get the best price. The focus isn’t on quality. When the grapes are subpar quality, the winery then must “fix” the wine with additional additives to balance it out, erasing the terroir. 

There’s also a lack of transparency. Where is it from? Who is the winemaker? What’s even in the blend? White label wines tend to be vague, usually intentionally so that they can mix things up year after year to get the cheapest results possible. We don’t know how the wine might have been manipulated or chemically altered. 

So can private- and white-label wines be any good?

Yes, for sure! The thing is though, the quality of these wines varies a lot, depending on where the grapes were grown and how they were vinified. Are they bulk wine (AKA a mysterious conglomerate of grapes from all over)? Or are they from a highly-esteemed wine region, or even from a single-vineyard? 

How to buy better wine

  • - Is there a real winery name listed on the label? Google it and make sure it’s an informative sight that has information about their history and story – not just a vague marketing splash page.
  • - Can you find the bottle for sale in multiple independent retail locations and/or on the winery’s website? Or is it only available at a specific big-box store. 
  • - Look for specific information about where the grapes are grown – the more specific, the higher level of transparency. 
  • - Is there a winemaker listed by name on the website? 
  • - Shop at Vinebase.com – we only work with independently owned wineries who craft high-quality wines.

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