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What Does ‘Reserve’ Mean On A Wine Label?

What Does ‘Reserve’ Mean On A Wine Label?

Seeing ‘Reserve’ on a wine label is like hearing ‘Best In Class’ on a car commercial: it could mean a whole lot, or it could tell you absolutely nothing. In the case of the commercial, it depends if the class is luxury SUVs or twice-owned hatchbacks. And when it comes to reserve wine, it all depends on where the bottle is from.


In most countries - USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Chile to name a few - it’s simply a marketing ploy. Producers will usually slap it on their best wines, but there’s nothing official about it. On the other hand, in Italy and Spain, the words ‘Riserva’ (Italy) and ‘Reserva’ (Spain) are legal designations. In order to include them on labels, producers need to age the wines for certain periods of time before release. That’s important because aging - especially oak-aging - has a big impact on how the wine will taste.


So when you see Riserva on a bottle of Barolo or Reserva on a Rioja, what should you expect? In broad terms, it’ll have more going on than similar non-reserve wines. Aging gives it complexity in the form of savory flavors like leather and mushrooms, which join and then replace simpler fruity ones over time. Most Italian and Spanish regions require reserve wines to undergo part of their aging in oak barrels, allowing them to pick up some vanilla and toasty notes as well. Tannins, which can make young Barolo hit like over-steeped tea, become less bitter and more approachable in the process. And because producers tend to use their best grapes on reserve bottlings, the wines will often continue to improve for years or decades to come.



If you’re studying for Jeopardy or a sommelier exam, here are the legal requirements for the Reserva/Riserva areas most commonly questioned.

Rioja Reserva

Aged for a minimum of 3 years, with at least one year in oak barrels.

Gran Reserva

Aged for a minimum of 5 years, with at least two years in oak barrels.

Barolo Riserva

Aged for 62 months, with at least 18 months in oak barrels.

Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

Aged for a minimum of 6 years, with at least 2 years in oak barrels.

Chianti Classico Riserva

Aged for at least 2 years.






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