Editor’s Note: Carl is out of the office recovering from the surgical procedure that was needed to repair an aortic dissection he suffered in mid-December. As of this week he is back home again, and is resting and healing. While Carl will likely be out of the office at least 12 more weeks as he recovers, he did write a number of blogs this Fall so he would have several in reserve. We will also call upon friends of Carl to do some guest blogs in his absence. Rest assured, we will continue to bring you a new wine blog every Thursday!
Does the word “Reserve” on a wine label mean it’s a better wine? Not necessarily. Frankly, it depends on whether it is “Old World” or “New World” wines.
The governments of Italy and Spain (Old World) have enacted laws on how wines produced in their countries can be labeled. Labeling laws do vary by country.
Here are a few reasons that a wine might have “Reserve” printed on its label:
- Made from a higher quality grape or grapes from a special vineyard
- Wines that are aged for a minimum period of time, typically longer than normal
- Wines aged using a specific process
Italian Reserve Laws
In Italy, wine labeling (what can be printed on the labels) is very regulated. Wines are, for the most part, labeled by origin and grape varieties. In addition to these classifications, wines can also be labeled as Riserva (Reserve) if they meet certain aging standards. Here are the standards by wine type:
- Chianti Classico Riserva: must be aged at least 27 months before it can be considered a Riserva wine and labeled as such
- Most wines, other than the Chianti Classico, must be aged a minimum of 24 months to be labeled as such
- High-end Italian wines must be aged longer to be labeled as Riserva:
- Barolo – aged over 60 months
- Amarone – aged over 48 months
- Brunello – aged over 60 months
- Valpolicella and Barbaresco – aged at least 48 months or longer
Once the wines are aged according to government standards, it is up to the winery to determine whether the quality deserves the Riserva labeling. If the winery decides not to consider the wine a Riserva wine, the non-reserve versions of these wines are also still subject to the same aging requirements.
Spanish Reserva Wine
In Spain red wines labeled “Reserva” must be aged for a minimum period of at least three years. The wine must be in oak barrels for at least 6 months of that two-year aging period.
There are two classifications of reserve wine in Spain: Reserva and Gran Reserva. White wines must be aged at least two years with six months of that time in casks. Spanish Gran Reserva red wines must be aged at least five years. Gran Reserva wine must be in oak barrels for a period of two years out of the five-year aging period. Most of the Reserva wines are made from Tempranillo grapes.
With “New World” wines, especially in the U.S., there are no regulations on using the word Reserve on wine labels. In fact, many producers use the term as a marketing tool.
Typically you’ll see the term used in three ways: “Reserve,” “Vintner’s Reserve” and “Grand Reserve.” The latter, Grand Reserve, is intended to indicate wines of the highest quality.
Most wines labeled “Reserve” are more expensive and said to be made from higher quality grapes or aged longer, etc. Some wineries label certain vintages as a Reserve wine when they feel the wine is better than a normal vintage. A little research on your part will help confirm the reason the wines are labeled Reserve and worth a higher price.
I would always be skeptical of any lower priced wines marked Reserve. Most likely it is a marketing effort to get you to buy their wine. When trying to purchase an inexpensive Reserve wine, it is better to stick to wines produced in Spain, Italy or Australia where the use of the term is regulated.
There are lots of things to take into consideration when buying Reserve wine, or wine in general for that matter. Unless you know the wine or winery I suggest you not rush into purchasing their Reserve wine without some research on the wine. You can always pick up a bottle or two on your next trip to the wine shop.
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Until next week,
Calendar of Events
- March 3rd – National Mulled Wine Day
- April 17th – International Malbec Day
- May 4th – International Sauvignon Blanc Day
- May 9th – National Moscato Day
- May 21st – National Chardonnay Day
- May 25th – National Wine Day
- June 11th – National Rosé Wine Day