Not so long ago, gran reserva Rioja’s reputation was as bad as that of cream Sherry. That’s to say, tired wines drunk by elderly drinkers, blanketed (the wines, that is) in old or – in the case of Sherry – very old oak. Thankfully we are in a different world today. The best cream Sherries are deliciously silky treats, while gran reserva has been reborn in a range of different styles.
According to the textbooks, gran reservas were only aged in American oak barrels. In my selection there are indeed 100% American oak wines (notably the 890 and 904 from La Rioja Alta). Yet read the small print: many others now use 100% French oak, or a blend of the two.
Scroll down to see Sarah Jane Evans MW’s top 20 Rioja gran reserva wines
Secondly, a textbook gran reserva used to be a blend of varieties, based on Tempranillo, with smaller amounts of Graciano and Garnacha, plus potentially also Mazuelo and the white Viura. Again, read the small print, and you will find a quarter of the wines I have selected here are 100% Tempranillo.