These three terms are not the same. They mean different things, depending on the country of origin of the wine.
In the old world (i.e. Europe), the use of terms such as these is fairly regulated. It is supposed to signal a superior wine, a wine made from the best, more rigorously selected grapes. It also indicates a regulated and longer minimum period of aging for the wine.
Reserva is a term you see on Spanish wine labels and is one of a hierarchy of quality distinctions based on length of aging before release. Under Spanish wine law a Reserva red wine must age for a minimum of 3 years before release, of which one year must be in cask. Reserva white wines have a lower minimum aging period of 2 years, of which 6 months must be in cask. In Spanish wine law Reserva sits between Crianza and Gran Reserva wines.
Riserva is a term you see on Italian wine labels to designate the 'better' wines. We see the term most often on Tuscan (Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano) and Piedmont (Barolo and Barbaresco) wines. Italian wine law mandates that these Riserva wines age for a longer minimum period before release than non-Riserva wines.
All is fair game here. This is a term used more often by New World wine producers. There are no official regulations regarding usage. Individual producers are free to create their own criteria for designating certain wines 'reserve'. That said it is usually used to indicate a superior range of wine. Terms such as 'Vintner's Reserve, Grand Reserve etc' are widely used.
While these terms are supposed to indicate higher quality, they are not necessarily a guarantee of such. As they generally cost more than non-reserve wines, if you do not know the wine or the producer ask a knowledgeable sales-assistant before parting with the extra money just because it says 'reserve' on the label.
For more detailed information on these terms see an older post on the topic.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.
Previous Wine Words
• Wine Words: Clarity
• Wine Words: Color
• Wine Words: Complexity
• Wine Words: Texture
• Wine Words: Aromas
• Wine Words: Alcohol
• Wine Words: Body
• Wine Words: Tannin
• Wine Words: Acidity
• Wine Words: Minerality
• Wine Words: Length and Finish
• Wine Words: Sweetness
• Wine Words: Style
• Wine Words: Oak
• Wine Words: Clarity
• Wine Words: Extraction
• Wine Words: Sediment
• Wine Words: Variety vs. Varietal
• Wine Words: Reserva, Riserva, Reserve
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