The Guardian: Should we be impressed by ‘reserve’ wine?

T h e G u a r d i a n : S h o u l d w e b e i m p r e s s e d b y r e s e r v e w i n e ?

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Whether marketing term or guaranteed mark of quality, these bottles are worth seeking out

Waitrose Reserve Claret, Bordeaux, France 2018: When you see the word ‘reserve’ on a bottle you’re being invited to believe the wine will be a little bit special, that it’s part of a batch that has been held back – reserved! – just for you and other members of the cognoscenti. You might also assume there’s a rule about what a winemaker has to do before they’re allowed to use ‘reserve’. Well, neither assumption is true – at least not always, or not everywhere. In many parts of the world you can put reserve (or reserva or riserva) on any wine. There’s no guarantee that it will have been aged or made in a special way. Indeed, on a big-production number like Waitrose Reserve Claret, the use of the term is marketing, plain and simple – although that doesn’t mean it is any less crunchily, blackcurrant-juicily attractive.

Beronia Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain 2011: One region that does have strict reserva rules in place is Spain’s Rioja. To qualify for the category, a red rioja has to spend at least three years ageing, with at least one in oak barrels. Red gran reserva wines, meanwhile, age even longer: a minimum of 60 months, with at least two years in a barrel. Does that mean that reserva or gran reserva wines are always better than wines made outside those classifications? Not necessarily: there are plenty of Rioja producers who’d say these terms describe a style or tendency rather than a quality level. And it’s true that many of the best bottles in Rioja don’t fit into either category. All the same, few red wines can match a well-made gran reserva – such as Beronia’s – for mellow, savoury, autumnal charm.

Bissoni Sangiovese Riserva, Emilia-Romagna, Italy 2016: The other part of the world where the concept of reserve is protected by wine laws is Italy. As with reserva in Spain, Italy’s riserva describes a winemaking recipe rather than being a synonym for quality, but some of Italy’s very finest wines – including classics such as Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Barolo Riserva from Piedmont and Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from Tuscany – do fit the legal bill. Whenever I’ve had the chance to taste these magical wines, questions about the precise amount of time they’ve spent in an oak barrel have seemed a little pedantic – and I feel the same about Rafaella Bissoni’s gorgeous Sangiovese Riserva. Made from the same variety, sangiovese, it’s aged for 18 months in oak, and 12 in bottle before it’s released – a riserva that really does feel special.

Source: The Guardian