How to Remove Wine Labels

An excellent bottle of wine is one of my true joys in life. There is nothing more relaxing to me after a hard day of work than to meet up with a good friend and a bottle of one of my favorite wines.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Even after the bottle has been turned completely upside down and the last precious drops make their way into my glass, I find I want to remember great wines I’ve shared with friends and family. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is by saving the labels in my cellar book. Some people paste labels into scrapbooks, and still others keep them in picture frames or other displays.

Methods For Removing Wine Labels

There are a number of methods for removing wine labels. I’ve heard it all, and read about more than a few in wine magazines. Let’s take a look at three easy and usually successful methods.

Steam / Hot Water Method

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Really this is two different methods, but they work on the same principle.

Those of us lucky enough to own a home espresso machine will have an easy time of steaming a label off a bottle of wine. Grab your empty wine bottle, charge up your espresso machine, and put on something to protect your hands — remember that steam is incredibly hot and can burn. (Don’t laugh — I’ve burned myself at least once forgetting this simple rule.)

Placing the label a safe distance from the steam wand on the machine, turn the machine up enough to produce a steady but not overpowering amount of steam. Run the steam around the edge of the label a few times until you see the label begin to peel. With many bottles, this is all you’ll need — you may then carefully peel the label off, applying gentle pressure. Just to be safe, though, it may be wise to continue steaming the label until all of the glue beneath has weakened. Ideally, you will be able to remove the label with very little force and without any tearing.

Those who do not own an espresso machine are still in luck — a teapot will do just fine, but remember, it is just as dangerous to your skin as a steam wand. Once the water in the teapot is boiling, hold the bottle in the steam until the label begins to peel. Apply gentle pressure and the label will come right off.

Still others prefer to fill the bottle itself with very hot water. Make sure not to get the label itself wet in the process, as this can ruin the look of the label and at worst can destroy it altogether. Let the hot water sit in the bottle until the glue holding on the label is weak enough to allow you to peel the label off.

Hot water can work like magic to remove a label, but there is some danger that the label will be damaged.

Laminate / Tape Method

Wine stores and catalogs often advertise a sort of laminate or tape that is about the size or a little larger than most wine labels. The idea is to place the tape over the label, press firmly to make sure it has stuck, and to gentle peel the tape (and hopefully the label) off the bottle.

The problems with this method are many. For one, many wine labels are too large or too small for the size of the tape. Also, it may be difficult to remove the label intact from the bottle, as the tape may provide too much force and tear the label right off. Also, there is no way to remove the tape once it has been applied to the label, making for a rather junky looking label presentation. One way around this is to display the labels in such a way that the tape doesn’t show — scrapbooking or framing methods would work best once tape has been stuck to a label, as you would most likely use tape to affix the labels eventually anyway.

Soaking In Water Method

I think the most common method for removing wine labels is to soak the empty bottle in water. Fill your kitchen sink with medium hot water (if the water is too hot it could destroy the label) and two drops of dishwashing liquid. If you use too much dishwashing liquid, the label will be destroyed just as thoroughly as if you use scalding hot water. In around half an hour, the label will either have come right off, or will be pulling away from the bottle enough for you to finish the job with your hands or a single edged razor blade. Be careful with the blade — if you don’t hold it at the correct angle, it will most likely cut the label in half, create too much “drag” and tear the label off the bottle, or could even slip and cut you.

Many people these days simply ask the winery for labels, and most wineries are happy to oblige. I don’t think of this as true wine label collecting — after all, when I drink a bottle of wine and remove the label, I have the satisfaction of my memory of drinking the very wine that the label came with. It is just as legitimate to display or mount a label received directly from a winery, but I feel like this cheapens the experience, and therefore would rather remove the label myself.

There are many other methods for removing wine labels — some soak their bottles in gasoline, still others use a hair dryer to weaken the glue, etc. I find these three methods the safest and most dependable methods of saving wine bottle labels. How you store wine bottles and display them is your business.

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