In the old days, say twenty years ago, many labels were easy to remove just by standing the bottle in water. When you had a white wine in restaurants which supplied an ice bucket, the wine label would slip off the bottle before you poured your second glass. But now that rarely occurs because most labels used today are self adhesive and use a plastic glue that is not water soluble.
The first thing to do when you want to remove a label is to determine whether or not it is self-adhesive. If there is more than one label on teh bottle, e.g. if there is a front and rear label, or if one of the labels is made of separate pieces of paper, then it is self adhesive.
If the wine is a recent vintage from a new world or large scale winery, then its almost certain the label is self-adhesive.
If there is just one label on the bottle, if itís an old vintage and from the old world, then it may be water soluble. Look at the back of the label through the glass and if you see stripes of glue then it is, and you can soak off the label by placing it in a container of water.
The best way to remove self-adhesive labels is by using heat to melt the glue sufficiently to allow you to peel the label away from the bottle. But first it is worth seeing if you can hook a fingernail under a corner of the label and try peeling off the label. If the wine is newly bottled sometimes the glue has not had time to make a good seal.
The method I use to remove self-adhesive labels is to stand thebottle in a sink and pour boiling water into it up to a level to cover the top of the label. After five minutes, wearing an oven glove, I hold the top of the bottle steady, and try peeling off the label.
Others have reported success with placing the bottle in a microwave for a short blast, but you must take care because many labels have metallic elements in their design.
Peeling off the label using a razor blade works for a friend of mine, but he has scars on his hand to show this method is not risk free.
But if you want a reminder of the label without needing the actual label, then photographing it with a digital camera or cameraphone will suffice. This is the method I now use in restaurants and when travelling. It is so much better than taking empty bottles from restaurants and struggling to remove their labels in hotel washbasins.
Ask questions and talk about wine on our forum.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africaís Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.