The use of reserve, reserva or riserva on a bottle of wine is common. Maybe too common. The term came about when winemakers decided to ‘reserve’ their best wine and not put a select batch to market right away, or even at all. So very early on the term became associated with quality. Today a lot of people base their wine buying decision on this term because they see it as an assured stamp of quality from the winemaker, when a lot of the time it doesn’t mean anything at all.
For wines from Chile and the United States for example, reserve doesn’t necessarily mean more time in bottle or more time in oak. It is purely down to the winemakers discretion. In Chile they’ll often use reserva and gran reserva to distinguish between the standard wines and the premium wines in their range. There is nothing to govern their practices and how they label. They could have one wine labelled ‘super duper kick ass Gran Reserva’ and nothing would be said.
In Spain however, it does mean something. Not necessarily that one wine is better than the other, but that it has been treated differently in the winery and should offer a different style. Red Crianza has been aged for at least two years, and at least six months of this time has been spent in oak. Semi-Crianza is half of this. Reserva reds are at least three years old and have seen a minimum of one year in oak, with Gran Reserva undergoing a minimum of five years aging, at least 18 months in oak and additional time in bottle before release to market.
It’s easy to see why the there is such a price difference between a joven (young wine) and a Gran Reserva. But even with such an investment you can’t please all palates. Many people don’t like oaky wines, instead enjoying the fresh, fruity and straightforward characteristics of the young wines fermented in stainless steel tanks and more or less bottled immediately. It is worth noting that requirements can change between regions, in Spain as well as in Italy (where you would see ‘riserva’ used), so if it matters to you do check with your trusty wine merchant for more accurate information on the wine at hand.
The range from Bodegas Vallobera includes wines from Joven through to Reserva.
Interestinly on this, Argentina has been forced to take Reserva off wine labels by the EU. Terrazas from LVMH is changing their Reserva to Select. I wonder will the EU try and do the same with Chile?
Is the change due to EU law or Argentinian law?
I can’t imagine Chile without Reserva and Gran Reserva! They’ll have to come up with something new.