Recently, A wine was launched in India called ‘Vintner’s Reserve’. It boasts of being aged for 24 months in oak barrels before another 24 months in bottle. Pretty ‘boast-worthy’ that. To boot, the wine didn’t taste bad at all. In fact, it was very ‘drink-worthy’, save for the issue that it didn’t show complexity for all that ageing—it still showed freshness. For Rs 1,500, this could be the much-needed reviver for Four Seasons winery.
But they called it Vintner’s Reserve, a very high-sounding accolade. By comparison, Fratelli’s (sort of) equivalent reserve is much more expensive, boasts of considerably less ageing and is simply labelled ‘Sette’. York and Myra have their reserve wines at much lower prices—almost 40% lower. At the other end, the only thing ‘Reserve’ about Sula’s offerings is its name. Grover’s La Reserve is a lovely wine, but still cheaper than their other Chêne, which would then, I guess, make it their Grand Reserve. The question is who decides what gets to be called Reserve and what doesn’t?
Blame it on the French, the first ones to indulge in such hyperbole with absolute ambiguity and utter anonymity. They spoiled it for everyone for centuries to come. It doesn’t help that French, as a language, sounds so exotique, so when a wine gets prefixed or suffixed with words like ‘Cuvée’, ‘Spéciale’, ‘Réserve’, ‘Impérial’, ‘Particulière’, it automatically seems perceptibly better and more precious.
Italy had its own way of denoting prestige. In Tuscany, especially, wines ending with ‘-aia’ were accorded privileged shelf space: Sassicaia, Brancaia, Volpaia, Solaia… the list goes on. But outside of that, using the word ‘Riserva’ on a bottle wasn’t ‘Scot-free’. Any wine labelled so had to conform to certain ageing requirements like, for example, a Gran Selezione Chianti has to be aged for a minimum of 30 months.
Spain was similarly reserved about using the terms ‘Joven’ (young, no ageing), ‘Crianza’ (aged for one year), ‘Reserva’ (three years) and ‘Gran Reserva’ (five years). Again, depending on the sub-region, these can change a bit.
But is putting an ageing requirement enough? What about the final taste? Imagine opening a Barolo and finding that it tastes like a Brunello. Or worse yet, like neither! In many countries (Italy and Austria come to mind), apart from the minimum ageing or alcoholic percentage, the taste, too, has to show typicity and, for lack of a better word, conformity to the regional style. This is mostly done by a local panel elected internally for their experience and ability to see beyond personal gain. They weed out the anomalies, so as to bring reliability to any nomenclature being adjudged. Sure, this can mean similarity, but, with a good panel, there’s always room for independent expression. France is not as controlled and this makes buying a French wine a lot tougher for the average consumer.
Mind you, the Scotch industry is the naughtiest and their deployment of names more mythical-sounding than the Loch Ness monster. And this is a very smart way to use consumer confusion to their (selling) advantage.
We, in India, should learn from the West and adopt the best practices (no, not from the whisky world please). Allowing winemakers to label their wines as they wish may make for creative labels, but leads to utter chaos in the market. The word ‘Reserve’ should mean something concrete and wineries should be checked for compliance before they can use such heavy words willy-nilly on their labels.
Meanwhile, all the best to Four Seasons and their new Vintners’ Reserve red. I’d drink it even if they called it by any other name.
The writer is a sommelier