As you stroll through the liquor store aisles you my come across a wine that looks like a good contender, and next to it the same wine with the word “Reserve” on the label. The price is higher so you think, that’s the one! But buyer beware, don’t be fooled.
Originally, the term “Reserve” wine was coined by winemakers who saved a portion of their wine that they felt was truly special to share with family and friends. As the industry of winemaking progressed, the term Reserve/Reserva/Riserva defined a wine that is simply of higher quality – the grapes may have ripened to perfection or come from a select part of the estate. The wine out of those barrels is unique in some way in comparison to the regular release. From a regulatory perspective, in order for a wine to be labelled Reserve, the winemaker must prove it to be superior in comparison to their regular release — come from exceptional fruit, have a higher minimum alcohol content and a minimum period of ageing before being released to the public for sale.
Unfortunately, in today’s world of winemaking, the term Reserve, may very well be meaningless. The only countries who continue to enforce strict guidelines for Reserve wines are Italy, Spain and Portugal. (For example, a Spanish Gran Reserva requires at least 5 years of ageing, of which two years must be in oak barrels, before they can be released for sale.) All other countries, the U.S. and France included, do not have the same laws and as time has gone by, the term Reserve has become a shady marketing ploy for many producers. More often than not, the term is used to coax unknowing consumers to purchase their wine by indicating there’s something special about it. Having said that, there are many winemakers who continue to produce beautiful Reserve wines in the way it was originally intended. Because of the tainted reputation, winemakers who produce special or select wines from their estates will oftentimes label the wine “Cuvee” to indicate a wine that is a true Reserve in the traditional sense.
Our advice – be wary of the term Reserve and don’t buy just for the sake of what’s on the label. Let your tastebuds decide if it’s special enough to earn a place in your shopping cart or in your wine glass.