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I Love Italian Wine and Food - Riserva Wines

Did you ever wonder what the word Riserva on an Italian wine label means? Does it guarantee a fine wine? Can it still be a bargain? This short article will try to answer these questions, and review a Riserva wine that I recently tasted.

The major and sometimes only difference between two Italian wines with the same name on the label except for the word Riserva is the Riserva's extra aging. For example, Barbaresco wine from the northern Italian region of Piedmont wine is aged for a minimum of two years, one of which must be in oak or chestnut casks. The Barbaresco Riserva version is aged for a minimum of four years, two of which must be in oak or chestnut casks. Let's look at another example; Piedmont's Barolo, the king of wine and the wine of kings. Barolo is aged for a minimum of 38 months, and Barolo Riserva is aged for a minimum of 60 months. In the first case Riserva means that the wine has been aged in wood for two additional years, while in the second case it means the wine has been aged in wood for 22 additional months. The exact specifications for Riserva depend on the given wine. As you will see in the review of the wine I tasted, the producer may add his or her own additional requirements.

What about the price? Do you have to pay extra for a Riserva wine? The answer is yes. The Riserva process costs money, in part because the wine has been held off the market for all that extra time. But the wine business is complicated. Let's say that you are always on the lookout for a specific wine. One lucky day you get to your favorite wine store just when the new shipment arrives including both a 2005 and a 2003 Riserva of this wine. To your grand surprise the 2005 costs more than the 2003 Riserva. How could this happen? Perhaps the 2005 is a far superior vintage for this particular wine. Buy what you can. And expect to pay even more for the 2005 Riserva when it finally reaches the marketplace.

Be careful, on occasion the word Riserva means an essentially different wine. The central Italian region of Umbria produces a DOC wine called Torgiano and a DOCG wine called Torgiano Rosso Riserva, both made from the same grape blend with minor changes allowed. A similar situation occurs in the central Italian region The Marche where Rosso Conero is a DOC wine and Rosso Conero Riserva has been accorded the DOCG classification. The grape varieties used in both wines are the same, and perhaps only difference is the aging. For both these pairs the authorities decreed that the longer aged wines are sufficiently different from their cousins to warrant a fancier classification, and a higher price tag. Are they right? You might want to taste them to reach your decision. Personally, I have not tasted any of the wines mentioned in this paragraph.

But I have tasted two Nebbiolo-based wines, a Gattinara and a Gattinara Riserva from the northern Italian region of Piedmont. As luck would have it both wines came from the same producer. The regular Gattinara was a 2001, the Gattinara Riserva was a 1999. Of course, when comparing these wines, we should take into account the vintage, which can make a big difference. I remember a relatively inexpensive 2001 French dessert wine that was absolutely spectacular. But the 2002 vintage of this wine made by the same producer from the same grapes was good and nothing more.

For a review of the Gattinara DOCG 2001, see my article I Love Italian Wine and Food - Aosta Valley Region, Piedmont Wine.

Wine Reviewed
Travaglini Gattinara Riserva DOCG 1999 13.5% alcohol about $33

First a few notes supplied by the producer Giancarlo Travaglini. This Riserva wine, composed of 100% Nebbiolo grapes, was aged for at least three years in oak barrels, and one year in the bottle. In fact, 25% to 30% of the grapes were aged in small oak barrels. The grapes for the Riserva wine come from selected grapes at selected sites. To protect its name, Travaglini makes Gattinara Riserva only in the best years. The Riserva grapes are processed and aged separately from the regular production. The producer suggests serving the wine at 19-20 degrees Centigrade (66-68 degrees Fahrenheit), and claims that it can be cellared until 2015-2020.

This wine was very rich and mouth-filling. A little bit went a long way. I tasted tobacco, leather, and black cherries, but essentially I tasted a very fine wine. I don't think that I am kidding myself when I say that I could tell the difference between this wine, and the non-Riserva 2001 vintage, which I also found excellent. I felt that the Riserva was even more powerful and complex than its younger cousin.

I tasted it with rib steak and potatoes, and with slow-cooked beef ribs as in my previous tasting. (I wasn't going to waste any of it on a more plebian dish such as a lasagna.) The food pairings were great, as was the wine on its own. My only regret was that the bottle was empty before I tasted it with any cheese. Frankly I wonder if a wine of this quality wouldn't be a bit wasted with cheese.

Final verdict. I'd have to think very hard to find something negative about this wine. I'm not convinced that it should be cellared until 2015-2020, which at this point seems a long way off. But for now, and certainly the next few years, this wine is excellent, and is somewhat of a bargain. For this particular wine, and undoubtedly many others, Riserva means more than just additional aging.

Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is .

About the Author

Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is .

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