I have been asked this question a lot - "Are there any common words that vendors use that I should look for on the labels?" There are many commons words - but many will not pass clearance and are edited out.
When you look at the back of the labels, you are going to find fruit- apples, pears, and a lot of blueberry. Figure out what fruit you like and you can pretty much bet you are going to find a wine label with that on the back... Especially from California- they will give you a fruit choice that you can use as a resource. Rest assured if you find one that says "green apples" it will taste like green apples.
As far as the wine label laws in the United States, there are no specified reasons to put "reserves", "vendor reserve", etc. There is no common denominator to look for. I think this is what marketers are appealing to...the book on the shelf concept. They are going for the cute, bright, fun labels - ones that appeal to the shopper.
But ultimately, your good wineries will take the time to put a back label on that accurately describes the wine.
And I think this is the best thing to look for when you are trying to pay attention to what you are matching your meal with what wine you are serving. I encourage you to go your local superstore and go down the wine aisle and read some labels. If it has a cute, bright front with no back label... stay away!
The next time you go out with your friends or significant other for "an evening on the town" there will likely be an opportunity to sample different wines. But before you venture out, I would like you to think about whether you will be drinking or tasting.
To me, the major difference is whether you are comparing and discussing wines or just sticking with the one wine that's available or the selection that the most outspoken person in your party recommended.
If the later is the case, there is a good chance you are drinking. If you are actually comparing the differences between several wines, you are more likely to be tasting. Drinking and tasting are perfectly acceptable forms of entertainment and I recommend healthy applications of both.
I personally do both but usually at different occasions:
When I'm tasting, I bring along a diary that I have kept for years. Initially, I wrote down my impressions of each wine and gave them my own type of internal grading. Over time, I have added much more information, and the diary has helped me track my preferences, even as they have changed through the years.
When I'm drinking, I am likely to be at social function or party, and I keep my thoughts about the wine to myself. No one wants to hear the "expert" pontificate.
When it's time to party, do so with gusto!! The main thing is to have fun.
In Vino Veritas,