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Food & Wine What does the code at the back of a bottle of wine signify?

The question

Can you tell me what information can be gained from a mysterious code on the back of a 2017 French rosé I just bought? Here it is: “L18065D01 09:01”

The answer

That’s the lot number. It refers to the bottling date. Most wineries display such codes as a way to trace wine back to the batch from which it was bottled. This can be critical in the event that a product recall becomes necessary.

For consumers, it can also explain why two bottles of otherwise identically labelled wine can taste markedly different. Often, a winery will transfer only a portion of a tank into bottles, reserving the rest for bottling at a later date, once the market is thirsty for new stock. That held-over lot, purely by virtue of spending another, say, six months or so maturing in tank, is likely going to taste slightly different than the first lot.

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While not all countries require such numbers, the European Union mandated them many years ago. And while there is no universal format for how the codes are to appear, in Europe the number must begin with an L, as is the case on your bottle.

I’m not an inventory-control expert, but I’ll take a stab a cracking the code on your bottle. The first two numerals are the final two digits of the bottling year, specifically 2018. This makes sense for a rosé that was harvested in 2017 because typically pink wines are meant to be consumed fresh and are bottled early in the year following harvest. My second guess is that the next three digits – 065 – refer to the number of days elapsed in 2018. Given that January has 31 days and February has 28 (there was no leap year in 2018), there were 59 days in the first two months of the year. If you add the first six days of March, you come up with 65.

I’m not sure about the rest of the numbers used by the winery in question. The “D01” could be a small batch from a larger lot. And I suspect the last four digits divided by a colon – 09:01 – could be the time of day when the bottle came off the line. Like I say, I’m not certain of the finer details of your particular wine. But if I’m wrong, I suspect that some lot-number geek out there will advise me of my error soon enough by email or Twitter.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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