If you love the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon but the fruitiness of Grenache then you’ll love Tempranillo. It’s big wine with high tannin that will buddy up to any piece of rich meat. Tempranillo is a popular grape that grows everywhere, but its homeland is Spain. In Spain, the region famous for Tempranillo is Rioja. Unlike American wine, Rioja uses a system of qualifying their wines making it pretty easy to find what you like. So how are the wines of Rioja classified? One of the primary qualifications between the different styles is oak-aging. Very basically: the more oak, the higher the quality level.
Rioja formerly “vin joven”Wines in their first or second year, which keep their primary freshness and fruitiness. –riojawine.com
Rioja used to be called “vin joven” which literally means “young wine.” Now when a wine is labeled ‘Rioja’ and it’s the base-model Tempranillo, they are baby Tempranillo wines without all the tannin (or the richness) of the other classifications. What they don’t have in structure they make up for in zippy fruit. Try this level of Rioja as a great example of the true varietal characteristics of Tempranillo wine.
CrianzaA minimum of one year in casks and a few months in the bottle. For white wines, the minimum cask aging period is 6 months. –riojawine.com
Crianza is perhaps the most accessible level of Rioja wines, especially since most can be found for less than $15. At the Crianza level, the wines are most commonly aged in used oak, so the oak flavors are not as strong. The goal of Crianza is a high-quality daily drinking wine. It’s not too rich, but with Tempranillo’s natural high tannin it has quite a bit more body than Merlot. It’s like a great valued Cabernet Sauvignon.
ReservaSelected wines of the best vintages with an excellent potential that have been aged for a minimum of 3 years, with at least one year in casks. For white wines, the minimum aging period is 2 years, with at least 6 months in casks. –riojawine.com
This is where Rioja tastes serious. At the Reserva level, winemakers often age their wines longer than the minimum and select better grapes. Many Rioja wine enthusiasts swear by Reserva level because they are a medium between super fruity Crianza and oakey-bottle-aged Gran Reserva.
Gran ReservaSelected wines from exceptional vintages which have spent at least 2 years in oak casks and 3 years in the bottle. For white wines, the minimum aging period is 4 years, with at least one year in casks. –riojawine.com
The Gran Reserva level of Rioja experiences the most oak-aging. This gives Rioja wine the most tannin structure and age-worthy potential. What’s interesting about Gran Reserva is that most winemakers select the best grapes for this level and age them for as long as the wine needs. This means most of the new release Gran Reservas are around 10 years old or older when you first see them available. Gran Reserva Rioja are ideal wines to cellar up to 30 years.