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Wine dictionary: What is a Reserva wine and what do sulphites and tannins do in a wine (R-S-T)

Your favourite wine vocabulary guide is back again. What five new terms will we learn this time round? Some of them are commonplace, others not quite so much, but all of them are equally intriguing and fascinating.

This time round, we’ll be looking into the features of a Reserva wine, how to tell if a wine is dry using three different techniques, what role sulphites play, what tannins do and what we mean by Tempranillo. Don’t miss it!

It’s time to look at letters R, S and T. Start taking notes!

Vino Reserva Coto de Imaz


In earlier Wine Dictionary posts, we spoke about different types of wine depending on their ageing: young wine, Crianza, Gran Reserva, etc. However, there’s one term left to define: Reserva wines.

What is a Reserva wine? It’s really quite simple. According to the Rioja Regulatory Board, for a wine to be classed as a Reserva wine, it needs to meet the following requirement: it must have been aged in oak barrel and bottle for 3 years. Of these three years, one of them must have been in the barrel, with an additional 6 months of ageing in the bottle.

For white and rosé Reserva wines, the ageing period is 2 years (24 months) with a minimum of 6 months in the barrel. Did you know our Coto de Imaz Reserva Blanco spends 12 months in an uncharred French oak barrel? That’s how we keep its fruity and complex aroma.

Find all the El Coto de Rioja wines on our online store


We often mistakenly associate this term with the feeling of dryness or harshness that a wine leaves in the mouth and on the tongue. Our Wine Dictionary is here to set the record straight!

Actually, when we say that a wine is dry, we mean to the lack of sweetness or, in other words, the low level of residual sugar that it contains. But how do we know this? Using the number of grams per litre expressed in fructose or glucose.

There are 4 types of wine depending on the level of residual sugar in them:

  • Dry: when the wine contains under 4 g/l of sugar
  • Demi-Sec: if the residual level of sugar is between 4 and 12 g/l
  • Semi-sweet: when the level of sugar is between 12 and 45 g/l. As is the case with our Coto Semidulce.
  • Sweet: when there is over 45 g/l of residual sugar. These are normally known as dessert wines.

Dry wines can be made with a range of grapes. As such, it’s not uncommon to find dry reds, whites or rosés, and, compared to sweet wines, they have distinct sharp notes and a higher level of alcohol.

How to tell a dry wine from a sweet wine

Even if we’re sure about the theory, how can we tell a dry wine from a sweet one without checking the sugar content? We’ll tell you three ways of working it out.

  • By taste: it may seem obvious, but taste is the best thing to rely on when trying to tell if a wine is sweet or dry. But just drinking it is not enough. The secret is in letting the mouthful rest on the tongue for a few seconds and then swallow it. If the notes of the wine linger, it’s a sweet wine. However, if they disappear quickly, it’s a dry wine.
  • By its aroma: it’s crucial to smell a wine before you taste it since our sense of smell can give us useful clues. As a rule of thumb, dry wines give of grassy and fresher aromas, while sweet wines have fruity or floral ones. However, don’t let yourself be fooled: you could also find a dry wine with fruity notes too.
  • By density: due to the higher concentration of sugar, sweet wines have a thicker and denser consistency, while dry wines are lighter.

Bring these three tips together so that you don’t miss a trick on your wine tastings.

Vinos secos y vinos dulces
Qué son los sulfitos del vino


Also known as sulphurous anhydride. This is a chemical compound, sulphur dioxide (SO₂), which is generated naturally when fermenting wine.

Sulphites in wine play different roles, including as preservatives, antioxidants and antimicrobial agents. As such, they play a role in ensuring that the aromas, colour and even flavour of the wine are not affected and help it to last over time.

Even though sulphurous anhydride is generated naturally in wine, a greater quantity is added later to boost its preservative properties in the wine, prevent bacteria from growing and ensure quality.

How sulphites affect health?

In line with EU wine labelling regulation, the presence of sulphites should always be listed on the bottle. This is mainly to inform people who are allergic or sensitive to this compound. To see if this is the case, you just need to look for the “contains sulphites” message on the bottle. This is also stated on online wine stores!

If you have any kind of allergy, a good alternative is to go in for natural winemaking, since it is focussed on creating sulphite-free wines. What’s more, not all wines have the same number of sulphites. White wines and rosé wines have the highest level of sulphites. When it comes to red wines, the sweeter they are, the more sulphites they will have.

It should be pointed out that the number of sulphites in a wine is not at all bad for your health, since there are always very low levels in line with the regulations. Did you know that sulphites don’t just occur in wine? We can also find them in any food that goes through a fermentation process. This happens with bread, yoghurt, cider, preserved food, vinegar, beer, etc.


Do you remember when we discussed the feeling of astringency and dryness on the tongue? This is caused by tannins.

This is a naturally occurring substance in a bunch of grapes. Specifically, tannins can be found in the skin, pomace and pips, but they can also be found in wine barrels.

What role do tannins play? They add notes of bitterness, roughness and complexity to the wine. They can be easily recognised in the mouth by the dry feeling they leave on the tongue and gums. The greater the concentration of tannins, the greater the bitterness, dryness or astringency. As such, this shouldn’t be seen as an issue, since this is a crucial component for ageing wine for longer and making it develop. Did you know that this substance can also affect the colouring of the wine?

Much like sulphites, tannins can also be found in other commonplace foods and drinks. Specifically those that, if you think about it, generate a feeling of roughness in the mouth such as tea or coffee. Another fun fact: tannins also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Qué son los taninos del vino
Vino Tempranillo El Coto Selección Viñedos Rosado


This is one of the most common variety of grapes to be found in Spain. Its name in Spanish relates to how it is harvested: Tempranillo comes from the word ‘temprano’ (early) in reference to the fact that the grapes are harvested at an earlier date than usual. This is because they ripen faster than all other varieties.

This grape comes from La Rioja and is perfect for making red wines and rosés. Wines from this grape have a notably ruby red colour and a generally low level of acidity. This variety produces Tempranillo wines with a low level of tannins, making them light, smooth and really aromatic.

The Tempranillo grape is also perfect for doing what we call coupages or assemblages (terms that we went over in earlier posts in our Wine Dictionary). The best example we have of this is our El Coto Rosado Selección Viñedos. This wine brings together the Tempranillo and Grenache grape varieties to create a delicate, fresh and intense wine that is easy on the tongue. Have you tried it yet?

Are you looking for a good Tempranillo? Take a look at our range!

Learn all the terms in our wine vocabulary and uncover all the secrets of your favourite drink. If this post has left you wanting more, don’t forget to take a look at the content on the El Coto de Rioja blog. Here’s a special selection from other entries in our Wine Dictionary:

Wine dictionary: Learn about the power of aftertaste and how to spot an oxidised wine (O-P-R)Wine dictionary: Learn what a ‘young wine’ and the ‘magnum’ category mean (J-L-M)