This clever list will teach you which Spanish Rioja wine to buy and why

Do you feel lost when you look at Spanish wine with names on them like Crianza, Reserva, Tempranillo? This list will help you to decode some of these names on the label.

Let’s start with the Rioja name. Rioja is a region in Spain. They produce some elegant wine. Mostly from grapes like Tempranillo, Grenache, Graciano and Carignan(Mazuelo). Sometimes they blend these grapes, and sometimes you can buy single grape wine.
I’m especially big fan of Tempranillo grape. So when I’m in the supermarket, and I see a good deal on Campo Viejo (brand name) I buy some.

Campo Viejo has three different colours of the label — yellow, orange and golden colour. The difference between them is in price and the name, which contains a clue how long that wine has been aged. The yellow one is called just Rioja Tempranillo. The orange one is Rioja Reserva, and the golden one is the Grand Reserva.

They are a great example of how Spanish wines are labelled based on time spent in an oak barrel.

What does it mean when wine spends time in oak?

The oak ageing softens the tannins and allows the wine to develop more complex flavours. Longer in oak might mean smoother, more complex wine. I say it might because it depends on the grape that is used. Tempranillo has medium tannins so it shouldn’t need to be too long in oak like Cabernet Sauvignon, but it depends on your taste.

Here are the terms that you might see on the label and what they mean:

Vino Joven

It means “young wine”. It has spent little or no time in oak. A newer name that is now more commonly used is Generico or Sin Crianza. If there is nothing on the label then it’s probably Vino Joven.


Crianza

It has aged for at least 2 years of which at least 6 months in oak. White and rose Crianza has aged at least 1 year of which at least 6 months in oak.


Reserva

It has been aged for at least 3 years of which at least 1 year in oak. White and rose Reserva has aged at least 2 years of which at least 6 months in oak.


Gran Reserva

It has been aged for at least 5 years of which at least 18 months in oak. White and rose Gran Reserva has aged at least 4 years of which at least 6 months in oak.


There are other terms for ageing too (but they are not saying that the wine has been in ageing in oak):
Noble – aged for at least 1 year
Anejo – aged for at least 2 years
Viejo – aged for at least 3 years

It really depends on what do you like. Generally speaking, if you want a wine that is more complex and has a hint of flavours like vanilla and cedar go for the older wine. If you want something that has some tannins and more fruit flavours go for the young wine.
One last advice, don’t forget to decant red Rioja. It will help you to enjoy it more.

Did you like this article, do you want more details or what else would you like to learn? Let me know in comments.

Resources:
The concise guide to wine & blind tasting -Burton
WSET level 2 – studying materials

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.