Definition - What does Reserve mean?

Reserve is a term used on wine labels to denote a wine of quality and cellaring ability. Reserve wines are usually made from the best grapes on the estate, are aged prior to selling and/or have a higher alcohol content. In general, the term indicates that the wine in the bottle is special and/or unique.

The term is used differently across the world. While it is regulated in many Old World regions, the New World has very few rules governing the use of “reserve”. Therefore, the term is often abused, used as a marketing tool.

WineFrog explains Reserve

The term “reserve” hails from the days when winemakers would put aside their best wines, reserving them for aging and higher price points in the future. True reserve wines are the best that an estate has to offer, have great aging potential and sell at a higher cost.

However, only a handful of wine-producing regions regulate the term, which means that “reserve” on a label doesn’t always mean the same thing.

Regulated Regions

Most old world winemaking regions have regulations on their labels, including the use of “reserve”.

Spain & Portugal

On the Iberian Peninsula, the term “Reserva” is only used on wines that have had additional aging prior to sale. The regulations vary by region, but on average, Reserva wines have been aged a minimum of three years, two in a barrel and one or more in the bottle. When a wine is aged for five or more years prior to sale, the term “Gran Reserva” is printed on the label.


In Italy, the term “Riserva” is used most often in Tuscany and Piedmont:

  • Chianti Classico Riserva – minimum 2 years and three months aging with no stipulation on barrel or bottle
  • Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – minimum 5 years of aging with at least 2 years in a barrel
  • Vino Nobile de Montepulciano – minimum 3 years of aging with no stipulation on barrel or bottle
  • Barolo Riserva – minimum 5 years aging with no stipulation on barrel or bottle
  • Barbaresco Riserva – minimum 4 years of aging with no stipulation on barrel or bottle


Reserve is used to denote a wine with 13% ABV or higher.

Unregulated Regions

Most of the new world wine regions have no regulations in place. There are a few minor exceptions:


Reserve is used to denote quality when comparing two similar wines. Example: Kremstal DAC Reserve wine is higher quality than Kremstal DAC Classic wine.

US & Canada

There is no national regulation on the use of the term. In fact, many producers in the US and Canada will use the term as a marketing strategy.

The Washington Wine Quality Alliance, a voluntary, member-based group, have restricted their members to using the term on 10% or 3,000 cases (whichever is greater) of their production. The wines must also be of higher quality.

Reserve wines are typically aged, smooth, complex and rich. While reserve wines are typically of higher quality, it doesn’t always mean that it is “better”. Wines made for early enjoyment have a fresh, easy profile that makes them great sippers and food-pairing wines. Reserve wines are usually stronger, richer and more complex, making them perfect tasting wines.

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