Placed up near the top of Spain is the Rioja winemaking region which is known for producing classic red wines based on the Tempranillo grape often blended with Garnacha
Tradition has it that there are clear ways of making this wine that make it what it is. Much like great Bordeaux wine or the wines of Italy there are rules to follow. But what makes Rioja wine individual is the process to bestow quality....and it works, due to the ability of these wines to age and maintain their Spanish essence.
There are three distinct quality levels of Rioja wine: Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. Each of the levels increase the grape quality along with the oak and bottle aging requirements.
This is a fresh, fruit-forward youthful red wine that is aged in oak for a minimum of one year and then spends another year aging in the bottle. The Crianza is well-priced and averages at around $10 - $15 a bottle and packs the reputation a a wine made with quality. The will age, no problem.
Crianza has a reputation for being very food friendly – give it a try with tasty Spanish offerings like appetizers, croquettes, cheeses and tapas....even oysters and clams. This is an easygoing, everyday wine that will not disappoint and offers good, consistent value year in and year out.
The Reserva ups the ante a bit from the Crianza both in complexity and in price. Again, Tempranillo is the major red grape and makes its presence known with commanding cherry flavors along with acidity. This combination makes the wine very palatable on it's own and with food. Some wines a re just food wines; a Reserva can most of the time be drunk as a big wine and a crowd pleaser. The aging requirements for a Reserva are a minimum of one year in the barrel and another two years aging in either the barrel or bottle.
The price point for a Reserva ranges from around $15 to over $35, with super value packed into every dollar. Think about what you often have to pay for a good Cabernet. What's often great about the Reserva is that it's a very versatile red wine that eagerly complements an assortment of food options. Consider pairing it with grilled dishes, fish, octopus, beef, lamb, it has a 'sweet-spot' for ham (or jamón as they say in Spain).
The creme de la creme of the Rioja Reds is the fittingly named, Gran Reserva. These wines require barrel aging for two years and must have another three years (minimum) of bottle aging before they are released, making them a terrific wine find as they have already enjoyed 5 years of aging before they may even grace the merchant shelves. So you'll notice the bottled years are much older on the shelf. Great wines to store away. The oak and the aging can make the wines a standout for years to come.
In many cases the Gran Reserva is not made every year but enjoys its high status because it is only made in extraordinary vintages. The Gran Reserva is assertive in both depth, body and intrigue It's elegant and in many cases won't breaking the bank, as it starts at around $25 - $30 a bottle and rivals many New and Old World reds that are asking three times the price. At the restaurant check the Gran Reserva out.
Spanish wines are so hot these days. Some of the best values are coming from all over Spain and many are adhering to the Rioja method of making their wines; which says a lot about it and its' history. So pick up a Rioja today and enjoy the taste and versatility.