Reserve wines

You may have noticed how many wineries are launching “reserve” wines, aka “flagship” wines. These generally come in much bigger and heavier bottles and naturally carry higher prices. There are broadly two motivations for this phenomenon. The first is that a given winery has reached new heights through fine-tuning its wine to a point where they believe the standard offering has been exceeded in quality and this better wine deserves to be given its own home.
Any winery that has aspirations is constantly driving for improvement. Add to this that we are learning more and more about the “science” of vines and wine, which should improve the breed. One could argue that this improvement be contained in the regular bottling, and I think this is often the case. But perhaps a winery has a new block of very fine Merlot that has come of age, and the resultant wine is in a different quality league. We consumers are very price sensitive, so the regular offering can’t spike in price. The alternative is to launch a reserve wine, at a higher price. This intrinsic improvement in the wine merits special treatment.
So has the Cape wine scene has suddenly “come of age” with the many vines and wines reaching new heights? Most of us would resist such an idea, it’s too facile. So enter the second driver for the birth of the reserve wine. It’s no secret that the wine industry is going through some tough times with global surpluses and a short-term past that saw the rand strengthen, impacting negatively on our export drive. So it makes commercial sense (it could even be desperately vital) to sell your wine at a higher price point if you are to survive.
The reserve bottling allows you to raise the price of your wine by presenting a new entity, one with a more refined story and a more sophisticated look. Often, in this instance, the wine is a selection from the inventory, like a new blend of varieties or the selection of a top performer to be re-dressed in fancier livery. With reds it is almost always a barrel selection, either the crème de la crème, or barrels that express a certain style of wine.
But it is in the packaging that the wine works hardest to add to its value in the eyes of the consumer – and most of us drink with our eyes. That heavier bottle, that designer label, that higher price. It has to be a better wine. Conspicuous consumption also helps, you know you’ll be warmly welcomed at dinner parties when you carry this bottle in.
Are these wines “worth it”? In a country where our top wines, wines with pedigree, sell at relatively low international values these bottles often are – but there are at least an equal number of pretenders in ponderous bottles out there.