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What is a Reserve Wine? Well, That Depends

The word ‘Reserve’ can mean a whole lot or a whole lot of nothing. Here’s what the words ‘Reserve’, ‘Riserva’ or ‘Reserva’ indicate on a wine label. Some countries have strict rules but, in the US, the word ‘Reserve’ doesn’t technically mean anything. Find out the true definition of a reserve wine.

In the US, ‘Reserve’ doesn’t technically mean anything.

What is a Reserve wine?

What is a Reserve Wine

Label trickery goes beyond just the word ‘Reserve’. Words like ‘old vine’, ‘fine’ and ‘special’ don’t always mean what you might imagine. For example, ‘Fine’ is actually the term used on the lowest quality tier of Marsala.

Where The Concept of a Reserve Wine Came From

The idea behind reserve wines most likely started in the cellar when winemakers would hold back or ‘reserve’ some of their wine from a particularly productive and good tasting vintage. Today, the implication of a reserve wine is that it’s a higher quality wine that has been aged longer. In fact, you’ll find most wineries who use the term really do put their best product into their reserve wines. Unfortunately, there are a few producers who take advantage of this concept as a great way to market their wine.

Today, the implication of a reserve wine is that it’s a higher quality wine that has been aged longer.

Countries Where Reserve Wines Have Rules

The two main countries where ‘Reserve’ has specific requirements are Spain and Italy.

Spain: Reserva Wine

In Spain, wines labeled with ‘Reserva’ must be aged for 3 years with a minimum of 6 months of that time in oak barrels. You’ll see this used mostly for Tempranillo wine from Rioja, Toro, Ribera del Deuro and Valdepeñas. In fact, Spain has a very complex aging system and Reserva isn’t even the most aged wine they make! You can find out more about the Rioja classification system in order to seek out better Rioja wines.

Italy: Riserva Wine

In Italy, each Italian wine region has a different definition of a Riserva wine. Most wines will be aged a minimum of 2 years to be labeled this way. On the higher end of the spectrum, Amarone is aged for 4 years and Barolo must be aged over 5 years before leaving the cellar. You can find out more about Italian quality levels in The Valpolicella Wine Pyramid: from Classico to Amarone.

Austria also has a ‘Reserve’ requirement which is a minimum alcohol content of 13% ABV.

Countries Where Reserve Wines Don’t Have Rules

Useful info about wine aging is sometimes printed on the back label. Ashan Chardonnay
Chances are, if the country isn’t listed above then it doesn’t have any rules for a reserve wine. On the United State’s TTB website, words like ‘Reserve’ are classified as a brand name, which means that Reserve is simply a title. Fortunately, most winemakers respect the implied meaning of the word and typically use it for their top tier wines.

  • USA
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Chile
  • Others


Should We Have Rules?

Maybe. Here’s why:

The information that the word Reserve tells us about is wine aging. As you may already know, aging really affects the taste of wine, particularly if a wine is aged in oak. So perhaps we need more information about aging on the bottle instead of a predefined word. For example,

“Aged 20 months in medium toast French oak”

tells us that the wine probably has vanilla and baking spice flavors as well as moderate oak tannins. This would be really useful information on a wine label. Learn more about oak-aging wine.


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