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reservas and gran reservas.

Also several wineries such as

La Rioja Alta, Muga and Lopez de Heredia continue to make

barrels in-house to their own specifications.

Many types of oak—French, American, Russian, even Chinese—can be found in the Rioja winery today, but the 225 liter American oak barrel is still the most common. American oak contributes to the classical flavor profile of Rioja wine. It is sweet and generous and offers notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and other spices that work beautifully with Tempranillo. It is also relatively forgiving of unripe fruit. When used effectively it helps to manage tannins and give complexity to wines, rather than impart assertive oak flavors.

French barriques are increasingly used in Rioja. They originally came along with French winemakers in the time of phylloxera, but as the cost of the barrels increased, many producers converted to American oak. Today, Rioja wineries are once again going back to using French oak as well as American oak for aging wine. Some like Roda use French oak exclusively; others use a combination of American and

French oak

Provided the fruit is phenolically ripe and of

high quality, winemakers such as Miguel Angel de Gregorio. tend to prefer French oak over American oak to impart complexity and finesse in their wines.

Styles of Rioja: Classical and New Wave

Rioja produces a wide variety of red wines. While there is in reality a continuum of styles, for the purposes of exposition we discuss two main styles—Classical and New Wave. Interestingly, many wineries produce both styles. For a list of notable producers of each style, see p. 3

Classical Rioja

Classical famous.

Rioja wines are the wines that made Rioja world


produced from the Tempranillo grape,

albeit frequently blended with small amounts of Graciano or other varieties to enhance acidity, color and flavor. Some Classical wine is produced from estate-owned fruit only (e.g. Lopez de Heredia), but more often than not the grapes or juice for these wines are sourced from other growers. Most Classical red wines are fermented in temperature-controlled

stainless steel or large oak tinas.

After malo, which is usually














French more.











What perhaps most distinguishes Classical Rioja is its aging in oak barrels and bottle, as required under the traditional DOCa classifications of Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. Today, over 40 percent of all Rioja wine falls into one of

these three classifications.

As with all Rioja wines, the

quality of Classical Rioja is mainly determined by the quality of fruit with wineries often selecting their best grapes for the


Reserva and Gran Reserva classifications. aging of Classical Rioja translates into its

The extensive being ready to

drink upon release by the winery, although many Reservas and Gran Reservas can age gracefully for at least another


Classical Rioja wines can be quite delicious, especially to the experienced connoisseur and pair beautifully with food. However, to young wine drinkers accustomed to fruit forward New World wines they are an acquired taste. At its best, Classical Rioja offers up an enticing balance of black cherry and plum fruit wonderfully balanced with notes of vanilla and leather. At its worst, Classical Rioja is a clumsy, overly oaked wine, with gamey aromas, harsh tannins and little fruit.

The traditional DOCa classification categorizes wines by their age in barrel and bottle. Some wine enthusiasts interpret this classification as an indicator of quality. Our tasting shows that for a given producer a Gran Reserva, is often better than a Crianza, if only because higher quality fruit is typically used to make the Gran Reserva and extensive aging in oak and bottle often rounds out and integrates fruit and secondary flavors. But a Gran Reserva of one producer is not necessarily better than the crianza of another.

Crianzas and reservas are rather similar in style. Both offer dark red fruit and balsamic aromas combined with vanilla and oak spices. On the palate, the integration of fruit and oak makes for flavors of earth, leather, cigar box and roast meat. Most, but by no means all, crianzas and reservas on the market are ready to drink. Some exhibit rather dry and hard tannins suggesting either under ripe fruit or rough handling of fruit during the winemaking process. Reservas are distinguished from Crianzas mainly by selection of fruit—in the vineyard or in barrel—and the use of better and newer oak, which can produce a richer, better balanced wine. However, some producers use similar fruit for both and simply age the Reserva longer. Our tasting finds this practice seldom produces a higher quality wine.

Gran reservas made by good producers are unique in the world of wine. Their extensive aging in oak barrels results in an enticing bouquet of dried herbs, cassis, black cherries, smoke, and leather. They are often light garnet in color with orange rims and yield delicate flavors of dried cherry, plum, and roasted nuts. Older vintages often exhibit some degree of oxidation, which the cognoscente do not regard as a defect. Gran reservas may also reveal dry mid-palates and finishes.

New Wave Rioja

The world was introduced to New Wave Rioja wines by several young, visionary producers like Abel Mendoza, Benjamin Romeo, Marcos Eguren, Telmo Rodriguez and Miguel Angel de Gregorio. These producers give top priority to their vineyards and take great care to obtain the finest, phenolically

ripe fruit for source their

their wines.





New Wave producers also old bush vineyards (50+/-

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