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Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness knows all there is to know about TTB and the regulated industries. Take a look below to see his answers to popular questions.


“What does a wine label really say about the wine?”

There's no denying the importance of the wine label!

As American adults become more adventuresome in their wine selections, they look to the wine label for more information. But making sense of wine labels can seem like a daunting task when consumers are faced with row after row of wine labels.

On the one hand, the label is designed to invite consumers to drink the wine, hinting at its character and personality, as well as that of the winery. On the other hand, every label must provide certain information about the wine.

With a little practice, you can learn a fair amount about a wine simply by learning how to properly navigate the wine label.  What is the dominant grape in the wine? Where were those grapes grown?  What makes one wine different from another?

TTB has put together a pamphlet (TTB P 5190.1:  What You Should Know About Grape Wine Labels) which contains enough basic information to assist you in making an informed choice when buying wine. While not every labeling possibility is included in this guide, it will certainly give you a good grasp of the fundamentals, such as:

  • Vintage Date
  • Estate Bottled
  • Appellation of Origin
  • Viticultural Area
  • Alcohol Content
  • Declaration of Sulfites
  • Brand Name
  • Varietal Designations
  • Other Designations
  • Country of Origin
  • Name and Address
  • Net Contents
  • Health Warning Statement

By investing a little time into studying labels before you buy, you will increase your chances of finding a wine to suit your tastes.

Please note:  The pamphlet discusses wine made from grapes, although wine may also be made from other types of fruit and agricultural products.

For more wine labeling resources, visit TTB.gov’s Wine Labeling pages, or visit the Online Wine Seminar at TTB.gov’s Tutorials and Job Aids section.


Visit the Eliot Knows Archives to see other popular questions and answers.

Page last reviewed/updated: 10/20/2011