Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Could you please explain the term "reserve" when added to a wine label? It seems to add to the price of the wine but doesn't always mean the wine tastes better to me.
—Bud F., Westlake Village, Calif.
For the most part, the term "reserve" has no real (or legal) meaning in the U.S., and is simply a marketing tool. Some wineries do set aside some of their best stuff, perhaps treat it with more expensive oak, add some gold leafing to the label, and call it reserve (and charge more). Other wineries put the word on every single thing they make. Wine consumers, they figure, are suckers.
There are exceptions, particularly in Europe. The term "Reserva" on a bottle from Spain or Portugal, or "Riserva" from Italy, indicates a wine made under a particular set of regulatory parameters, mostly referring to the time it was spent in barrels before release.
And the Washington Wine Quality Alliance (a voluntary, self-governing group of a couple dozen producers) has declared that "reserve" has to mean something. In order for a member winery to call a wine "reserve," it means only 3,000 cases or 10 percent (whichever is greater) of a winery's production can be labeled as such. These wines must be designated by the winemaker as higher quality (and higher priced).
Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...
Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more
Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions