The Boondoggle of Reserve and other Modifiers

Monday, August 17, 2015

One of the most interesting things in regards to wine is all of the lies which can be printed in the label and in the advertising.  I have talked before about how Barefoot Bubbly has at least three lies right there on the label that the average person would never see, but within the industry there are a number of other lies and shenanigans, that again, are intended to get over on the person who knows damned near nothing about wine.

The first word I would like to tackle is the word ‘reserve,’ and I will do it using the example of what I consider one of the worst Chardonnays out there, Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve. 

Reserve and related words like ‘reserva’ mean something in other countries, where the age old laws in regards to wine production enforce what goes in the bottle and what does not.  Technically, a reserve wine is usually made from a better quality of grape and/or has to be aged longer than the regular release.  This can be anywhere from an additional six to nine months, to several years.  If you were to look at Spanish wines from the Rioja region made predominantly from the Tempranillo grape, if the red wine is labeled Rioja, then it spent less than a year in an oak barrel for aging.  Crianza has to be aged at least one year in oak, and one year in the barrel, and then the remainder of two years in the bottle.  Reserva takes it a step farther, with three years of total aging, and Gran Reserva is a minimum of two years in oak and three in a bottle.

Now, with this, you know that when you see the bottle and what’s on the label, you understand both the quality you’re getting, and the price you’re paying for it.  However, in America, there are no laws establishing what qualifies as a reserve wine, and there are a lot of companies capitalizing off of it.  Hell, I once was sitting at the table with two sides for a wine deal I brought together and they were talking about labeling almost the same juice as a reserve, but maybe altering the blend just a little. Some brands actually follow suit to wine production in Europe and other places, actually aging the wine more so that you really do get a better distinct product. 

But Kendall Jackson ain’t doing it. 

They basically start off with their Vintner’s Reserve (VR) wine, which has been around for years and you’ll see ads for it in Wine Spectator saying that it’s the number one selling [100%] Chardonnay in America.  If it is, it’s the vicious circle of people believing that it’s that good because of the ad and buying it.  However, as far as I am concerned, it’s worse than ass.  I was once at a wine festival and one of the exhibitors offered me some of this, to which I replied that I would rather drink spiced cat piss.  It threw him for a loop, but he then came back and offered me some of the Grand Reserve, which I liked.  As it turns out, while there are three different Chardonnay grapes that go into the VR, only two of them go into this one.  But let’s look at this even further; if you go to their website, it says that the grapes are hand-selected, which probably really means that someone walked through the vineyards and pointed to take everything from it and let them be machine harvested.  They then talk about their wines being hand-crafted or made with artisanal winemaking techniques. 


This is some mass produced crap which is basically evened out in [with certain techniques] such a way that the wine from one year tastes almost the same as one made fifteen years ago.  But if you were to believe the hype, you would think that you’re getting some special wine, and you’re not.  Hell, the price of it is just under thirteen dollars a bottle at Total Wine while the cost of it in a PA State Store is wenty one; P.S. the VR costs fifteen dollars in PA.

As a rule, anything which is non-vintage, meaning that there is no year on it, will never be a true reserve wine.  Now, this is not to say that there aren’t a ton of American producers who actually do produce some true reserve wines, but you’ve gotta do your due diligence.

Another term is “Estate Bottled” which means that the producer also grew their own grapes and did the bottling.  This is interesting because believe it or not, there are farmers who simply grow wine grapes and sell them to certain producers.  And even more so, there are companies which have mobile bottling lines which come out to smaller producers and bottle all of their wine.

Now, another great term which you will see on a better bottle of wine is the name of the vineyard that the grapes come from.  Sometimes, it might just be one vineyard and other times it could be several.  It’s kind of like knowing the place where your groceries came from.  As my buddy Chacha was explaining old Little Italy to me, you went one place for bread, another place for meat and another place for fish, and so on and so forth.  If you went those places, you knew what you were getting.  An example of this is Terra d’Oro Zinfandel.  They make three different zins; Amador County; Home Vineyard; and, Deaver Vineyard.  They all hail from Amador County, but the Home Vineyard is heaven in itself.  The Deaver Vineyard, which has some vines older than one hundred and thirty years, produces some juicy wines, but not with the power of the Home Vineyard.  And of course, I only want the Home Vineyard.

Now, there are other terms like “Limited” as well as those which are combinations of two modifiers put together like “Estate Limited” and “Estate Reserve” and sometimes they mean something, and sometimes they only mean one thing.

Anyway, just a little bit more wine knowledge for you.


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