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Focus On Rioja – Do You Know Your Crianza From Your Joven?!

Focus On Rioja – Do You Know Your Crianza From Your Joven?!

Rioja, as most people know, is a region within Spain, writes Tiffany Vernon, Wine Adviser in our Shrewsbury Cellars Shop. Any wines labelled as Rioja must come from within this designated region. What you may not realise, however, is there are three distinct areas of Rioja (Ree-ock-ah) which leave a marked characteristic on each wine…

Rioja Alta wines are deemed to be the most elegant, this area has a higher altitude and the soils are rich in clay and Iron oxide.

Rioja Alavesa produces fuller-bodied wines but has poorer soils and therefore lower vine density.

Rioja Baja which has vineyards based on the flatlands near the River Ebro, this area has calcareous soils with large ancient stones (they look like the famous Galet stones from the Rhone Valley), these wines are fruit driven and often used in blends.

I personally love Rioja; It is my ‘go to’ wine if I want a deliciously smooth red to accompany a family meal, it’s often a top suggestion of mine to a customer seeking a beautiful wine either for themselves or as a gift (top Riojas will age very well), and furthermore, a marvellous vintage for Rioja was my birth year (which I shall not divulge as I am a lady. And it makes my colleagues feel ‘old’).

There are different classifications of Rioja;

The first is Joven which literally means ‘young’, these Rioja’s should be drunk in the prime of their youth as they aim to be fresh and fruity and have typically not seen any oak but could have been aged 1-2 years. 

Crianza is aged for at least 1 year in oak and 1 year in bottle (6 months in oak for whites). 

Reserva uses better quality grapes from the best vintages, it is aged 1 year in oak and 2 years in bottle (2 years ageing, 6 months of which is in oak for whites) and these wines have ageing potential. 

Gran Reserva is the serious stuff; made only in exceptional vintages, it has 2 years in oak and 3 years in bottle (4 years ageing for whites, 1 year being in oak – but very rarely made) and they have the greatest ageing potential. Gran Reserva Riojas can cellar for up to 30 years, so these are a good option as a christening present.

Note: All these ageing requirements are a minimum which are very often exceeded by the wine makers. These wine creators believe in giving the wine as much ageing as it needs, so very often a Gran Reserva is 10 years old before reaching your wine merchant. Bearing this in mind, Rioja is great value for money!

Red Rioja is made from the Tempranillo (temp-rah-nee-oh) grape (although there may also be some Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuala in there to mix things up a bit) which creates soft, easy drinking reds bursting with red fruit flavours. The Joven wines express the characteristics of this grape; which are great with tapas or as a party wine (aka something that will please the majority of people at a large gathering!). Rioja wine makers traditionally use new American oak to age their wines which adds a definite velvety vanilla characteristic, but wine makers are also making great use of old French oak barriques in combination with American oak so as not to mask the fabulous fruit of the Tempranillo grape.

White Rioja, I am pleased to announce, is becoming increasingly popular of late. If you’ve tried white Rioja you’ll understand why. Made mostly from the Viura grape variety (also known as Macabeo), Rioja wine makers have moved away from the old-school oaky style and are now concentrating on accentuating fruity freshness with a mark of creamy complexity. These are a great match for lighter dishes such as tapas, fish or creamy chicken dishes.

There is a reason why wine lovers enjoy Rioja so much; they very rarely disappoint. From a fresh fruity white or rosé with tapas, intensely fruity Crianza (with a sprinkling of sweet spice) to accompany fajitas, succulent Reserva paired with a traditional British roast dinner, or if investing in a Gran Reserva for a special occasion; I would never refuse a Rioja. To celebrate this fantastic region, and its incredible wines, Tanners currently have many special offers online and in store, including a few staff favourites. It was a tough decision sipping and discussing these wines all day, so make the most of all our hard work (someone has to do it). If you’re able to visit us in store to snap up these amazing deals, there may even be a free gift in it for you!



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