For many wine lovers, their first taste of Rioja is a crianza. Made as quality everyday drinking wines and sold at affordable prices, crianzas are the accessible and crowd-pleasing face of Rioja.
What is a Rioja crianza?
‘Crianza’ refers to the ageing regulations for red wines set out by the region’s wine control board, the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja. These state that a crianza must be aged for a minimum of one year in barrel and one year in bottle before release.
In contrast – and stepping up in quality and price – a reserva must be aged for at least one year in barrel and two in bottle. While a gran reserva spends at least two years in oak and three in bottle.
In reality, top producers often age their wines for longer than these minimum requirements, meaning that you can find astonishingly good quality in the region’s top Riojas.
Rioja also produces a fourth category of ‘genérico’ wines, simply labelled ‘Rioja’. These wines don’t have to be aged, meaning they are generally more fruit-forward styles, not influenced by oak. This category (which used to be called joven) gave winemakers scope to produce more terroir-driven wines.
It paved the way for the introduction of a vineyard-led classification system, Viñedos Singulares, announced in 2017 – a move that led to heated debate in the region.
Understanding these regulatory terms is a useful way to work out what style of Rioja you prefer. To learn more about the taste profile of crianzas, why not start with one of these recommendations…