The grapes used to make Rioja wine grow in Spain’s most recognized and historic wine region, Rioja. Also, the wine plays a central part of Spanish culture and cuisine. In fact, the phrase, “Spain in a glass of wine” is synonymous in describing Rioja wine.
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The long aging potential of Rioja wine is its most famous and unique quality. In fact, traditional wineries aged red Rioja wine for 15-20 years, before releasing the wines into the market. For example, the sale of Marqués de Murrieta a 1942 vintage Gran reserve happened in 1983, after 41 years of aging.
Rioja’s location and natural boundaries make it ideal for growing grapes. In particular, the region has steady temperatures year round, good levels of rainfall and long dry summers. The perfect environment for maturing grapes on the vine and producing exceptional red, white and rosé wine.
Rioja Wine Taste
Oak aging and the grape varieties used to make the wine influence the flavor and aroma of Rioja wine. In particular, oak aging infuses notes of vanilla and toasted wood into the wine, influencing the Rioja wine taste.
Similarly, the grape combination used to make the wine not only determines the Rioja wine brand but also the Rioja wine taste. Red Rioja wine is a blend of 60% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha Tinta and 20% Graciano and Mazuelo grapes. Accordingly, Tempranillo a classic red, fruity grape contributes to the color, flavor and aging potential of the wine. While the other grapes add body, alcohol, seasoning flavors and aromas to the Rioja wine.
To make white Rioja, wineries blend Viura with Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca grapes. Like the Tempranillo grape, Viura a fresh white grape is dominant and contributes mild fruitiness and acidity to the wine. The other grapes add aroma and body to the wine.
Red wines in this category must mature for at least three years at the winery before sale. In addition, the wines must spend at least a year aging in oak barrels.
Rioja Wine Brands
It is important to note that not all wine produced in Rioja, is Rioja wine. Rioja wine must meet regulatory conditions set by the Denominación de Origen (D. O)–the Control Board of the Rioja denomination.
Notably, Rioja received the prestigious “Calificada” (Qualified) nomination in 1991, becoming Spain’s first Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa). Because of the DOCa regulations, Rioja wine brands have four classification levels, based on the aging period of the wine.
Guarantee of origin
Wine in this level has a green label at the back of the bottle. The label shows that the grapes come from Rioja and the wine is a product of Rioja.
Aged in oak barrels for less than a year, this wine is young and fruity, with notes of raspberries. These wines are bright and fun, ideal to serve during a casual party.
These wines have a cherry-red label at the back of the bottle. Crianza wines must mature for at least two years at the winery before sale. Specifically, the red wines must be in an oak aging barrel for at least a year. And, the white wine must spend at least six months aging in the oak barrels.
Crianza wines stay fresh and develop more complex aromas and flavors from the oak aging. Consequently, these elegant wines are fruity, smooth, full-bodied with notes of toasted wood and vanilla.
Dark red labels on the back of the bottle help identify Reserva wines. Red wines in this category must mature for at least three years at the winery before sale. In addition, the wines must spend at least a year aging in oak barrels. With white wines, they must spend a minimum of two years at the winery, with six months aging in oak.
To produce Reserva wines, wineries use higher quality grapes that can survive the long aging. Therefore, production happens in the years that had a good growing season and from the best grapes. As a result, these wines are, complex, full-bodied, and rich with refined tannins.
The blue label on the back of the bottle helps identify these wines. Gran Reserva wines have the longest aging potential among the Rioja wines. Notably, these wines spend at least five years in the winery before sale. Red wines must age in the oaks for at least two years and spend at least three years in a bottle. As for white wines, they must age in oak for 6 months and released for sale after 4 years in the winery.
Due to production of this wine only happens during exceptional vintages, it has similar production conditions as Reserva wine. Uniquely, producers often age their wines for longer than the legal minimum. As a result, they soften the tannins and develop complexity in this wine.
As a result of the regulations set by the Denominación de Origen Calificada, which have ensured that Rioja wine maintains its authenticity. Rioja wine brands continue to be famous for offering all the style, complexity and elegance of oak-aged wines.