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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What differentiates a "reserve" designation from a standard vineyard designation, and does the "reserve" quality justify the price difference?

—Ken Hastedt, Novi, Mich.

Dear Ken,

At the wine store, do you see "reserve" on a bottle and instinctively grab for it? Do you think the winemaker cared so much about this wine that he "reserved" it for his most discerning customers? Well, usually this isn't true.

Some countries, such as Italy, Spain and Portugal, have legal definitions of the terms "reserva" or "riserva," which generally mean that a wine has been aged for a specified period of time before release. But in the New World, the word "reserve" is used indiscriminately, even haphazardly. Sometimes "reserve" is paired with other words to make a wine sound fancy: "Estate Reserve," "Founders Reserve," "Private Reserve." None of these terms have legal definitions. Some vintners bottle nothing but "reserve" wines. As always, caveat emptor.

—Dr. Vinny

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