Reserve Wine: A Guide to Premium Wine

The idea of setting a bottle of wine aside for a special occasion or life milestone is romantic.

Winemakers do this too if a special batch catches their attention and deem it “reserve wine.”

Reserve wine can mean several things, some more specific than others.

In this article, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about reserve wine and how to spot the differences between labels that may appear the same at first glance.

Reserve Wine A Guide to Premium Wine | Macy's Wine Shop

What Are Reserve Wines?

Traditionally, reserve wines are higher-quality wines set aside by the winemaker instead of being sold immediately. Depending on where you are, the term “reserve” can refer to strict classification or mean nothing at all. 

Let’s look more closely at the definition of reserve in winemaking.

What Does Reserve Mean?

The word reserve in winemaking implies just that. Wine producers would hold back or reserve a portion of their wine if it was from a particularly productive or quality vintage

In modern times, reserve wines are of higher quality or have been aged longer. Sometimes, they may be worth a higher price, though not always, as wonderful reserve wines are available for as little as twenty dollars. 

United States

If the reserve wine you enjoy comes from the United States, odds are this is just a title, as there are no specific requirements for a wine to be classified as a reserve here. However, these wines are still considered top-tier varietals that may or may not be more expensive, like those from Napa Valley.

Other countries, such as New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and South Africa, have less strict requirements for their reserved wines. 

Below are three countries where reserved wines must adhere to certain aging requirements.

Italian Wine | Macy's Wine Shop

Photographer: Dziana Hasanbekava


In Italy, reserve wines or “riserva” aren’t simply higher quality but must adhere to strict regulations depending on the varietal

Four main wine regions produce riserva Italian wines

Let’s take a closer look at the specific Italian wine laws. 

Barolo Riserva

Crafted from Nebbiolo grapes, Barolo Riserva wines must undergo a minimum five-year aging process, three of which are in oak barrels

Barbaresco Riserva

Like Barolo Riserva, this reserve is also produced from 100% Nebbiolo. It must be aged for at least four years with at least nine months in oak barrels. 

Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

Made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva must age for at least six years, with a minimum of two years in oak barrels and six months in the bottle. This type of riserva is only produced during years with exceptional harvests, making it extra special.

Chianti Classico Riserva

These wines must have a minimum of eighty percent Sangiovese grapes to be awarded the Chianti Classico Riserva title. They must be aged for at least two years before release, including seven months in oak barrels and three months in the bottle. The only other grapes allowed in this blend include Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Colorino, and Canaiolo Nero. 


Most of Spain has specific requirements for aging wine, especially red wine. They are often separated into three main categories, as seen below. 

Ribera del Duero and Rioja

These wines are traditionally 100% Tempranillo, although some Rioja blends require just 85%, with the rest delegated to Graciano or Mazuelo.


Spanish wines must age for three years, with at least one year in oak barrels and the remainder of the time in the bottle. 

Gran Reserva

Usually released for sale after five years with a minimum of two years in oak barrels. 

A glass of white wine | Macy's Wine Shop


Separate from Italy and Spain, Portugal’s reserva wine requirements involve more alcohol content than aging. These wines must also come from a specified Denomination of Origin or Geographical Indication region and bear outstanding characteristics, often subjective and based on the winemaker. 

Reserva and Reserva Especial

These wines must have an alcohol content of at least 0.5 percent above the region’s minimum alcohol requirements. For example, if the region requires 13% ABV, the Reserva or Reserva Especial must contain at least 13.5% ABV.

Grand Reserve

Portuguese Grand Reserves must have an ABV at least one percent higher than the region’s minimum requirements.

Velha Reserva

This classification means the wine was aged for at least three years before release. For white wines and Rosé, two years are required. Regarding alcohol content, Velha Reserva wines must have an ABV of one percent above the region’s minimum requirements.


Argentina is the only non-European country with specific requirements for the reserva label. It also requires less aging time than Spain or Italy.


Under the reserva label, red wines are aged for at least one year in the barrel, while white wines are aged in oak for six months.

Gran Reserva

This label indicates that red wines have spent at least two years in oak, while white wines must oak-age for one year.

A glass of red wine and a wine carafe | Macy's Wine Shop

Toast Excellence With Reserve Wine

Whether you’re enjoying a reserve wine from the U.S., Italy, Spain, or Portugal, the quality will be excellent. However, some wine regions require their reserve wines to meet strict classification standards through aging specifications, location, or alcohol content. 

Reserve wines in the U.S., for example, are a bit more mysterious as they can allude to higher quality, longer aging, or simply a label. 

For more insights on your favorite wines, visit The Wine Blog.

For excellent, premium wines that are affordable and easy to ship, check out The Wine Shop.