Rioja’s wines can be really tasty, often softened by oak and time spent in the bottle. The region is defined by its classification structure, based on age and ranging from young Joven wines, moving through to Crianza and Reserva, and peaking with the well-aged Gran Reserva.
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5 Rioja styles to try:
Key Rioja styles:
Often, but not always, barrel fermented or aged in oak. Many white Riojas are released as Joven, retaining the fresh, crisp character of the wine. Others are sold as Gran Reserva, requiring a legal minimum of 48 months ageing.
These are more like white Burgundy in style with rich, nutty flavours and a full bodied character from time spent in oak.
Released a year or two after vintage, wines labelled simply Rioja, or Joven, are young, fresh and fruity. Soft and approachable, these make great everyday wines.
With a minimum of 12 months in oak, Crianzas offer a step up in body and complexity while retaining the smooth, juicy character so many people love. These can be excellent value for money and showcase Tempranillo’s red fruit character very well.
Aged for at least 36 months, including a minimum of 12 months in oak, Reservas are generally made from sterner stuff than Crianzas. Higher quality grapes are needed to survive the extended ageing, and you will often find the wines are denser, with more dark fruit expression as a result.
Favouring oaky complexity and longevity over the fruit-driven density of Reservas, Gran Reserva Rioja demands a minimum of 60 months ageing, of which at least 24 months must be spent in oak. This style is usually reserved for the highest quality grapes, and quality conscious producers will often age their wines for much longer than the legal minimum to develop softness and complexity.