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by Fred McMillin
for July 7, 1997

Call Up the Reserves?


  • "Reserve" has no legal meaning on a USA wine label except what a shipper sees fit to give it.

    ...Schoonmaker Encyclopedia of Wine, 1964

  • "Reserve" bottlings in the USA almost always consist of wines considered by their producer to be finer than the regular bottlings.

    ...Schoonmaker Encyclopedia of Wine, 1988 Revision

The Rest of the Story: It is not illegal for a USA winery to label its cheapest wine "Reserve," implying it is of superior quality. However, as the above quotations indicate, today more and more wineries use it only on their better bottlings.

But can a non-expert recognize the difference between a Regular and a Reserve? We've explored it many times in our classes. Here's a typical test. The beginners had two glasses of wine, tagged A and B. They were 1995 Chardonnays by Carmel Valley's Chateau Julien, one the Regular, the other the Reserve. Only one of the dozen tasters felt Wine B tasted better; it was the Regular. That's almost always the case. Even beginners can recognize and do prefer the wine the producer feels is superior. If you'd like to conduct your own taste test, here are the wines.

1995 Chardonnay by Chateau Julien, Monterey County
Regular- Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, $10 (good value)
Reserve- "Private Reserve" Chardonnay, $20
Contact—Kristin Parker, (408) 624-2600
Address—8940 Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel, CA 93923

Postscript: A fomer resident of Carmel would have been glad to have any wine, reserve or regular. He was Father Junipero Serra, whose team brought the first wine vines to California. However, at his headquarters in Carmel he wrote in 1783 that "the lack of wine was becoming unbearable." So, the fathers to the south finally got a shipment together. Did it solve the shortage? Junipero wrote on what I imagine was tear-stained paper, "upon arrival the barrel fell off the mule, broke into pieces, and all the wine was lost!"

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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