WBW #32 – Regular vs. Reserve Wines

The Wine Cask Blog is hosting this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday, and the theme is an interesting one: regular vs. reserve wines of the same varietal from the same vineyard. We see them on the shelves all the time, and we may choose between the labels with little thought… Need a gulpable red for a burger cookout? Go with the inexpensive regular label. Dinner at the boss’s house? Better show up with the reserve, it’s probably better and it’s definitely more expensive. But how often do we actually taste the wines head to head? In my case, I don’t recall ever doing that. Perhaps at a vineyard wine tasting, but I’ve certainly never bought a bottle of each to compare. Until WBW #32, that is.

Jacob's Creek Shiraz and Reserve ShirazSince our theme is affordable wines (not to say cheap wines), we opted for a pair inexpensive Australian Shirazes. We found Jacob’s Creek Shiraz 2003 for a mere $6, and, for exactly double the price (but still affordable at $12), Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz 2003. We opened both bottles to let them breathe, and, after a while, began the comparison.

Jacob’s Creek Shiraz 2003

Price: $6
Maker: Jacob’s Creek
Variety: Shiraz
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.8%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

Tasting Notes. This wine’s nose was quite pleasant for a $6 wine, with licorice and spice mixing with ripe berry notes. The wine’s flavor mixed juicy berries with oak and pepper, with a slight tannic sharpness in the finish. This isn’t a great Shiraz, but for the price it’s reasonably balanced and complex. We tasted this wine a year ago, and it was good to see that our findings were quite consistent with the earlier tasting (see Jacob’s Creek Shiraz 2003).

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz 2003

Price: $12
Maker: Jacob’s Creek
Variety: Shiraz
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 14.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Tasting Notes. The strongest note in the nose is licorice, backed up by ripe blackberries. On the palate, this wine is very smooth. Plum and chocolate cherry flavors, with oak, soft tannins, and mild spice in the finish. This is a well-structured wine that lingers impressively.

Comparing the two wines, there were definitely some similarities, notably the licorice aroma and fruit-forward nature. The regular Shiraz was a bit rougher, though, while the Reserve was smoother and more complex. There’s no doubt that given the choice between the two, we’d pick the Reserve as the better wine.

The next question is a bit different: is Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz worth twice as much as Jacob’s Creek Shiraz? That’s a question that in part relates to the economics of the buyer. For a well-heeled wine buyer, $12 is still a cheap wine… there would be no reason to consider the even cheaper regular variety. For a starving artist (do they still exist?), the extra $6 might well be significant. So, we’ll ask the question in a more provocative way – if one found oneself at the wine shop on the way to a small dinner party with just $12 in cash, should one buy a single bottle of the Reserve or two bottles of the regular Shiraz?

I’ll weasel out of that question by saying it depends on the guests. The regular Shiraz from Jacob’s Creek is good enough to please the casual wine drinker, and the extra bottle might add to their enjoyment (not to mention further dulling their palates). For guests who would appreciate a better wine, go with the Reserve; you’ll run out quickly, but they will compliment you on your selection.

Thanks again to the Wine Cask Blog for coming up with this interesting assignment, and to Lenn at Lenndevours for creating and managing this virtual wine tasting.

One thought on “WBW #32 – Regular vs. Reserve Wines”

  1. I’m glad to see that with at least this maker they don’t just stick “Reserve” on the label only in order to drive up the price–that it actually is a better wine.

    As for starving artists, they do, in fact, still exist. I for one am a starving philosopher, but my girlfriend is an artist, and we’re in the same boat. All the same, I think I’d skip breakfast in order to upgrade to the better of the two wines.

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