Do DOCa Rioja rules require that each wine is barrel aged, bottled and labelled in a single release? Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW explains the details...

David Forrester, St Albans, asks: In ‘Letters’, February 2016, your reader Mr Steel expressed disappointment with the Barón de Ley Rioja Reserva 2010 that was rated Outstanding in your March 2015 panel tasting of Riojas between £8 and £25.

I wonder if he and your experts tasted the same wine? This vintage has been on sale in major UK outlets for three years. Given its acclaimed quality and exceptional value for money (over Christmas it was discounted to £7), a huge volume must have been sold.

Do DOCa Rioja rules require that the wine is barrel aged, bottled and labelled in a single release, or is the winery permitted to subsequently process and release, under the same label, other reserva wines of the same vintage to satisfy ongoing demand?

Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW replies: Wineries are not obliged to bottle and label wines in a single release, for obvious commercial reasons, but they must ensure traceability (bottling lots are indicated on the labels), and respect the ageing conditions for a red Rioja reserva: a minimum of 36 months, including at least 12 months in 225-litre oak barrels.

Although it is not legally impossible, it is highly unlikely that a wine is bottled just before commercial release. For Rioja crianza, reserva and gran reserva wines, ageing in bottle is as typical and as important as ageing in barrels. It is therefore possible that there are some differences between lots, but it is not very likely that there are lots of remarkably different quality.