In the Winery - A Reserve or not a Reserve...That is the Question


This past Saturday we released a new red wine under our Reserve label, an American Shiraz that was aged in a Bourbon barrel.  Our Reserve label differs tremendously from what we call our "mainline" label, and it takes a pretty special wine for us to deem it a "Reserve".  In fact, River Bend has not released a Reserve wine since 2014.  But what does the word Reserve actually mean in the world of wine?  Turns out, it can mean almost anything.  Let me explain...

The federal government of the United States has jurisdiction over wine labels, and each label has to go through an approval process by the federal Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) before it can be used.  TTB has agreements with other countries regarding certain reserved words, the word "Reserve" not actually being one of them.  For example, a US sparkling wine producer is not allowed to use the word Champagne.  Only sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France can be labelled Champagne.  The same thing applies to the word Port.  Port only comes from the Douro Valley of Portugal.  There are many port-style wines made around the world, but true Port only comes from Portugal.

Frontenac gris grapes at peak ripeness

So what about this word "Reserve?"  In some countries, such as Spain and Italy, the word Riserva is highly regulated and is mainly an aging requirement.  For example, an Italian Barolo must be aged for a minimum of five years to be considered a Riserva.  But the US has no real regulations regarding the word Reserve.  TTB considers it a brand name, which basically means its just a title.  I would like to think that most winemakers only use the word Reserve when a wine is truly special, be it because of quality, aging, limited availability or some combination thereof.

Barrel Club.jpg

So let's get back to River Bend's latest Reserve wine, the Shiraz.  As I mentioned, we have not released a Reserve wine in four years.  There is a simple reason for this.  Reserve wines must be special.  Each time we pull reds from barrel, we HOPE one stands out as a Reserve.  Truth my opinion as a winemaker...this is rare.  Does that mean I don't think our red wines are good?  Quite the contrary.  We would never pull a barrel if we didn't think it was good.  However, it is not that often that I think we have a barrel that is EXCEPTIONAL.  When we tasted this Shiraz, I was blown away.  Not by its bigness or its single characteristic jumped out at me.  This Shiraz was balanced...and smooth...and subtle.  And special.  That's what makes it a Reserve to me.  So if you have a chance, stop in a give it a try.  I'd be happy to hear what you think.

Join us again next week as we talk about sparkling wine.  Every other year, Al and I make a trip to Michigan to have our traditional method sparkling wine finished at the LMawby Winery in Suttons Bay.  River Bend sparkling wine is one of my passions, and I am excited to share it's story with you.