By Cristal Guiet on May 30th, 2023

What is a “Reserve” Wine?

The next time you are out shopping for wine at your local supermarket, winery, or wine merchant, you may come across a wine bottle that has Grand Reserve, Reserve, Vintner’s Reserve, Reserva, Gran Reserva, or Riserva written on the label.

Apart from the obvious fact that there are many different terms for the same word “Reserve”, what does it really mean?

How can you use this information to your advantage when choosing a wine?  What is a “reserve” wine? 

Are there any benefits to choosing a “reserve” wine over other wines? 

In the article below we will try to give you a clearer understanding of what a “reserve” wine is.

The difference between old-world “reserve” wines vs. new-world reserve wines?

There is no real difference between the old and new world when it comes to the use of the word “reserve” on a wine label. It can mean a variety of different things depending on who is using the term.

In general, there are no clearly defined rules which exist to regulate who has the right to label their wines as “reserve” wines.

A winemaker has the artistic freedom to call a wine from a certain wine barrel of the vintage or from a special plot a “reserve” wine because he/she has deemed that it has merits that make it stand apart from the other wines that are being made.

It is a common perception that if wines have “reserve” (in whatever the respective language of the country is) written on the label then it is an indication that the wine is of superior quality to the other wines that are made by the same producer.

However, do not let yourself be deceived into believing that this is always the case, do not make the assumption that just because a wine has “reserve” written on the label it is better than other wines.

In Alsace, for example, there is one well-known producer who consistently labels their entry-level wines as “reserve” wines.  

Italy and Spain are the only two countries in the old world that have very specific rules when it comes to being allowed to label their wines as “reserve” wine.

It would be fair to say that there is a better chance of these wines being more exceptional than unregulated “reserve” wines.

However, as is the case with any wine preference, it will ultimately be up to you to decide by sampling some of the different “reserve” wines from around the world and see if they really are something special or not.

The perfect way to gather interesting data about different reserve wines would be to host a tasting with your friends and explore as many different wines as you can.


There are three different types of reserve wines in Spain and they all come from the Rioja appellation.

The Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja was founded in 1925 and is a wine quality control board that inspects the quality of the wine producers are making to ensure that strict quality levels are maintained.

Basic Rioja, Vin Joven means young wine. These wines are the entry-level wines of Rioja which are made for consumption when they are young.

The information given below is the minimum aging requirements that must be adhered to.

However, it should be noted especially when Gran Reserva wines are made, the winemaker may choose to age them for a much longer period than is required to meet the minimum aging requirements.

Quality Tier

Red aging

White/Rosado aging



Wines made in Rioja, Navarra, and Ribero del Douro -Two years of aging, one of which must be spent in an oak barrel.  Red wines from other regions with a DO (Demoninacion de Origen) or a superior DOCa (Denominacion de Origen Calificada) only need to spend 6 of the 24 months aging in an oak barrel.

White wines from any of the regions must spend twelve months aging of which six months must be spent in an oak barrel.



Three years including 12 months in an oak barrel.

Two years of which six months must be spent in an oak barrel.

Cava must spend 18 months on lees.

Gran Reserva


Wines made in Rioja, Navarra, and Ribero del Douro must age for five years of which eighteen months must be spent aging in an oak barrel.  

Four years which includes six months spent in an oak barrel.

Cava must spend 30 months on lees.


In Italy, there is a different definition of Riserva wine for each specific wine region.

Italian law requires that Riserva wines are made from grapes of a higher standard of quality than is used in other wines. A minimum of two years of aging is required for all Riserva wines. 


Aging period (minimum)

Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva

Four years

Barbaresco Riserva

Four years

Barolo Riserva

Five years

Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

Five years

Chianti Classico Riserva

27 months

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Three years

Argentina is the only, new world wine-growing region that does have some specific rules which must followed in order to label their wines as “Reserva”. However, these rules are much more relaxed than in Italy and Spain.

For example, red wines only need to be aged for a year, while white wine is only required to spend six months aging before it can be labeled as a Reserva wine.

Gran Reserva wines require two years of aging and the grape yields must not exceed 300 pounds per 100 liters of wine that is made.


Aside from the three countries listed above, there is no rhyme or reason for naming a “reserve” wine as such.  As mentioned before, it is left to the discretion of the winery or winemaker to decide whether they want to label their wines as “reserve” wines.  

Is Reserve Wine more expensive?

As a general rule “reserve” wines will command a higher price than non-reserve wines from the same producer. The production is more time-consuming and expensive than with entry-level wines and it is logical that this cost will be passed onto the consumer.

Though the wine may be better, there is no guarantee that this is the case. 

Wines that have an outstanding reputation will often use the word “Reserve” to identify a wine that has come from an exceptional parcel in the vineyard or from the best barrels in a particular vintage, however, there is no legal standard that they must follow when labeling a wine as such.

Italy and Spain have legal definitions for the term reserves but this is still not a guarantee that the wine is of superior quality.

As is always the case when choosing a wine, you should always select wines that are made by a producer that has a reputation for quality.

If he or she labels a wine as being a “reserve” wine you never know, you might be in for an exceptional treat.

Remember not to be deceived into believing that just because a wine has “reserve” printed on the label it is of better quality than the rest of the wines in the shop.

In Spain and Italy, there are strict guidelines that must be adhered to which serve to ensure that wines that are marked Riserva, Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva are made to meet quality control standards.

In the rest of the old and new world, the word can be used at the whim of a winemaker and is not a guarantee of quality.

To avoid disappointment and paying extra money for a wine that is marked as a “reserve”, you should always consult your local wine expert who is knowledgeable and will be able to guide you through the intricate wine maze to find a “reserve” wine that is truly a wine of quality, not just a bottle with “reserve” written on the label.


Author: Cristal Guiet

Cristal has more than twenty three years of experience in the wine industry. In addition to creating wine lists in Michelin three-star restaurants, working with prestigious London wine merchants, and starting her own wine tourism company in France, Cristal has been writing about wine for over fifteen years. She holds the Advanced degree from Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and resides in London.

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