Reserve wines, particular to the Champagne region

May 17, 2021 • 3 mins

What’s a reserve wine? we hear you ask…

From the name, you could well think it’s a wine saved for drinking in a not-too-distant future.

"Visitors turn up unexpectedly? Good thing I’ve got some wine in reserve!"

But you’d be wrong! Here, let us explain….

What then is a reserve wine?

Particular to the Champagne appellation, a reserve wine is a wine that is not used in the year it is produced, but rather stored and used to build up a “reserve” over the years. According to the CIVC, the first reserves were created in 1938, following a series of catastrophic harvests. The aim of this initiative was to offset the years of poor harvests due to bad weather and ensure a stable level of production.

What is it used for?

Reserve wines are used for several purposes during different stages of the champagne making process:

The blending of non-vintage champagnes: non-vintage champagnes are crafted from the wines of several years. To preserve and perpetuate a style that is unique to each wine producer or Champagne House, the reserve wines are used as a tool, a palette that allows the winemaker to play around with the aromas and flavours of each wine, making adjustments to the blend without having to worry about the effect of one particular vintage.
Interesting fact: non-vintage brut champagnes represent 85% of total champagne production.

The disgorgement stage: when the sediments in the neck of the bottle are expelled, a few centilitres of champagne are also ejected. You obviously cannot sell half-empty (or half-full?) bottles, so the reserve wines are used to top up the bottle's contents. Of course, the reserve wine used must be of the same nature as the champagne it is added to or else it would alter its character.
It is at the disgorgement stage that the champagne receives its “dosage”.

But reserves wines do also serve as backup stock! They are very useful in years with low yields due to bad weather (frosts, heat waves, diseases, etc.), to maintain the volume of wine available to the producers. This allows wine producers to compensate for a year of poor quality or quantity (depending on the yields stipulated by the CIVC).
The maximum storage of reserve wines permitted is the equivalent of 8000 kg of grapes per hectare for each producer.

How are they stored?

Reserve wines can be stored in different receptacles: stainless steel vats to preserve acidity and freshness, oak barrels to impart roundness and toasty aromas, or vessels made with enamel, concrete, terracotta or even gold (yep, you read that right!). Everyone experiments and chooses their receptacles depending on the results they are looking for.
Reserve wines are said to add depth and length to the palate.

Enjoy this article? Then why not check out our article on the Art of Blending, which also talks about the role of reserve wines.