What does 'reserve' mean on New World wines?

What does ‘reserve’ mean?

G Tunstall, Lincolnshire asks: I know riservas and reservas have appellation restrictions in Italy and Spain, but how about if a New World wine is labelled ‘reserve’ – is this a better wine or just a marketing tool?

Stephen Brook, Decanter contributing editor, replies: It is one of the advantages of wine production in the New World that it is far less constrained by rules and regulations than much of Europe.

The drawback is that labelling terms such as ‘reserve’ are undefined and thus meaningless. A ‘reserve’ bottling will certainly be pricier than a non-reserve from the same producer, and it may well be better, but there is no guarantee that this is so.

Reputable wineries will use the word ‘reserve’ to designate a wine from an outstanding parcel, or from the best barrels in that vintage, but they are not obliged to follow such criteria. Nor is the Old World without fault.

There is at least one leading Alsace producer for which ‘reserve’, annoyingly, signifies ‘entry-level’. In Italy and Spain the terms have legal definitions but are still not absolute guarantees of higher quality.