The Myth Behind the Title of a ‘Reserve Wine’

The Myth Behind the Title of a ‘Reserve Wine’

by Beth Heiserman

Many people think that there are certain descriptive words that people look for on a winery’s label, like reserve, estate grown, single vineyard, old vine, etc. This past week, I had someone ask what our “reserve wines” were.

In the U.S., “reserve” doesn’t theoretically mean anything. When applying for label approval from the TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau) in our country, reserve is nothing more than a brand name. “Estate grown” sometimes is synonymous with reserve, but it isn’t supposed to be; you can be both. For instance, Reyes Winery wines are estate grown and, yes, I can consider them a reserve wine in the sense that we oversee and assist in the whole process to make sure the quality is the best, from growing to bottling.

The term “reserve wines” most likely started in the cellar when winemakers would hold back or “reserve” some of their wine from a certain good tasting or favorite vintage. In this day and age, the insinuation of a reserve wine is that it’s a higher quality wine that has been aged longer. But the reality is, you’ll find most wineries that use the term really do put their best product into their reserve wines.

When creating a label, you never know if it will be a reserve type of wine until after it’s bottled and labeled. You may, two years later, see an additional sticker that says “reserve.” For instance, Reyes Winery’s 2011 and 2012 Syrah that has won Double Gold medals from the San Francisco International Wine Competition means that now I could add that second label saying “reserve.” We generally put aside a certain number of cases in the cellar, so that a few years later, when the inventory in the tasting room has been exhausted, we will bring out a certain quantity to share with our customers.

Robert Reyes, our winemaker and owner of Reyes Winery, said his favorite is the 2009 Syrah. Even though it didn’t win the prestigious awards, it is now part of our “reserve” or “library” wine list which is for members now, unless it’s on the monthly wine list in the tasting room.