Rioja, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva – The differences.
Rioja offers a wide variety of wines each with their own distinct personality. The terroir, the vineyard, the grape, the cellar, etc. all play a role in the final product and give each wine distinct characteristics and flavors. To be able to clearly classify the wide range of wines in Rioja, 4 clearly differentiated varieties were created: Rioja, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. Here is a short guide to help understand the varieties of Rioja wine.
Since 2017 the Rioja region has been trying to educate and highlight their unique terroir. Rioja wants to show the world the diversity this region has to offer and the high-quality standard all their wines must meet.
It all starts with the grapes. The most famous variety of Rioja grape is Tempranillo. Tempranillo grapes are high in tannins and are one of the main reasons behind the characteristic body and flavour profile of Rioja wine. Tempranillo produces wine of great structure whether they be young and fresh or matured for many years. Other rioja grapes are: Mazuelo, Garnacha, Graciano, Maturana Tinta which are all red grapes and Viura, Malvasía, Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco and Maturana Blanca wich are whites.
Rioja wine can be classified in 4 different categories depending on how and how long the wine has been aged. This time also varies between red and white varieties. From youngest to oldest they are: Rioja, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. This way of classifying the wines means that wines of the same category will have similar flavour profiles, so it should be relatively easy to find which one you like.
Rioja (previously known as vino joven)
This style doesn’t usually have the same tannin structure or oak notes that the older wines have, but it is a delightfully light and fruity variety. The current tendency towards highlighting the terroir motivated the change in the naming from Vino Joven (young wine) to simply Rioja. This gives wineries and wine makers more flexibility to create wines not needing to conform to the rigours requirements that are needed to become a Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva. The term Rioja helps this style move away from the perception of being the lesser than the other three.
To reach this level the wine must be aged a minimum of a year in cask (6 months for white wines) and a few months in bottle. It offers great value since they are usually priced around 12€. The tempranillo wine gives Ciranzas a good amount of body and because it is usually aged in used oak, the oak flavours are mild. Similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Aged for a minimum of three years with at least one in cask (2 years for white, six months in cask). It is very common for wineries to age their wines for more than the minimum and choose better grapes to produce Reservas. Great taste blend of fruitiness and oak.
These wines must be aged for at least 2 years in oak and 3 years in bottle (for white at least one in cask and 4 total). Most wine makers in Rioja choose only the best grapes for Gran Reserva and let the wine age for as long as it needs. So, even though the minimum aging period is 5 years, most Gran Reservas are aged for ten years and are even older when there are finally taken to market.