John Wilson: Does the word ‘reserva’ on the label mean my wine will taste better?

How to Drink Better: The meaning depends on the country. If the wine is Spanish then it should mean far higher quality

Reserva is significant the label of a bottle of Spanish wine; fr. Photograph: iStock

Q: If my wine has “reserva” on the label, will it taste any better?

A: The answer is either yes or no; it all depends on where your wine comes from. In theory the term should signify the reserve, or best part of a producer’s wine. It can mean that the wine has been aged in oak barrels, an expensive process that makes it smoother and, sometimes, more complex. Yet in California, France, South America and many other parts of the world, reserva means very little, and is added simply to make the wine sound better – and more expensive. In other countries such as Spain, and with Rioja in particular, it means a lot.

In Rioja, a red reserva, which should only be made in very good years, will have been aged for at least three years before release, and at least one year of that in oak barrels. A gran reserva, made only in the very best vintages, will have been aged for at least five years, including a minimum of 18 months in barrel and at least 36 months in bottle. White and rosé wines have similar, shorter rules. Other parts of Spain, such as Ribera del Duero, have similar regulations.

In Italy, a riserva wine must be aged for a longer period than wine that is not labelled riserva. In other countries, the term has changing and vague meanings that don’t really signify anything.

Remember that for a wine to age majestically and develop into something special, the wine needs to be very good in the first place. And not all of them are. Beware cheap reservas. Also, not everybody likes the taste of old wine or oak barrels. I frequently prefer younger, unoaked (and cheaper) Rioja to the reservas.


So back to your question. If your reserva wine comes from Spain, it should be better. If it isn’t from Spain, I wouldn’t be so sure. It could just be a ruse to get you to spend more money.