Wine Geek Speak: Reserve

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Hello Friends,

Have you ever been in a wine shop or tasting room and seen the word “Reserve” on a wine label? Without even a swirl, sniff and sip, you are likely to assume that this is a wine of high quality. Especially since a “Reserve” wine is usually more expensive than a non-Reserve wine and you know the saying – “you get what you pay for.” But wait a minute! Even though you’ll find this term on U.S. wine labels under naming conventions like Estate Reserve, Private Reserve, Vintners’ Reserve, etc. or just Reserve, there is no legal definition in the U.S. to ensure the wine contained in the bottle meets any quality standard(s). Some consider the addition of “Reserve” on a wine label to be a marketing stratagem and, whether the wine in the bottle merits the distinction or not, in a way it is. In wine producing regions Italy, Portugal, and Spain, the term does have a defined meaning, but this has more to do with the time a wine must spend in barrel and bottle as well as alcohol requirements.

What makes a wine a "Reserve" ?

For a taste test, I purchased two U.S. Pinot Noir wines from a producer who makes a “Reserve” label and a non-Reserve label. In tasting these two wines [blind] with a group, the “Reserve” wine, which cost $6 more, had clearly seen more time in slightly used and / or new oak barrels. All of the tasters overwhelmingly preferred the non-Reserve wine, as it offered bright red fruit, perfume, spice, and a pleasing palate. The other, while a Reserve, was overpowered and outdone by the oak. For a consumer seeking some sign of fruit in their wine, this woodsy selection would prove less than desirable. The next time you find yourself in a wine shop or tasting room and are considering purchasing a “Reserve” wine, ask why it's a "Reserve" wine. Typically, you want to hear that this bottling is the producer's best fruit, best barrels, and was handled with the utmost care and attention to detail. When a producer opts to use “Reserve” on his/her wine label, the wine inside should be the best representation of what the winery has produced for a particular vintage. Have a question about this post, friends? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at, and as always, Happy Sipping! Stay tuned friends ...More to come!

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