This week it’s Spanish Wine Week. So what better for me to recommend than Spain’s most famous wine – Rioja! This weekend’s wine tip is a Rioja reserva from Tesco which I spotted a few days ago, reduced from €18 down to €10.
Rioja is one of two wine regions in Spain classified as a DOCa. This is Spain’s top quality classification and has only be awarded to Rioja and Priorat so far. You may be asking what factors make Rioja a cut above the rest? Well, a lot of it has to do with the aging that the wine goes through. Most Spanish wines will specify on the label how long the wine has been aged for. The longer it has been aged, the better a wine it is considered and this is indicated on the label using the following terms:
Joven – This is a wine that has been bottled straight after harvest and will have seen little if any aging.
Crianza – These red wines must be aged for a minimum of 24 months with at least 6 of those months spent in oak casks. In Rioja though, the red wine must spend at least 12 months in oak. Rose and white wines need to age for a least 18 months, but don’t need to see any oak.
Reserva – Red wines must be aged for 3 years of which 12 months must be in oak. This is the same for Rioja and all other Spanish reds. Rose and whites must be aged for 18 months with 6 months in oak.
Gran Reserva – These are the big boys. Reds must be aged for 5 years and 18 months of that must be in oak. For Rioja reds they must spend at least 2 years of that time in oak casks. Whites and rose wines must be aged for 4 years and see oak for 6 months of that, except in Rioja where it must be 12 months in oak.
Aging wine in oak casks does a few thing to the wine. Firstly it allows the wine to oxidise slowly which will help it develop lovely complex flavours such as leather and earthy notes. Depending on the type of oak used, this will also add flavours and layers to the wine. American oak is usually used and will add flavours of vanilla and coconut to the wine, as well as tannins. The newer the oak used, the more flavour and tannin is imparted.
Just as important is the time that the wine spends aging in the bottle after it has left the oak. This time brings all the wines components together so that the wine becomes well balanced and all the flavours and aromas are well integrated.
There are 4 grapes that can be used to make a red Rioja. They are Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo with each adding its own characteristics. Riojas can vary in style and this is partly due to how much of each grape a winemaker decides to use in his blend. The Vina del Cura Rioja Reserva is made from 100% tempranillo giving it lots of red fruit, which matches with the vanilla flavours from the oak used, and gives it a lovely ‘strawberries and cream’ flavour. The marriage of red fruit and sweet spice during the oxidation process, also brings a taste of toffee to the wine, and this makes for a very enjoyable drink!
The Vina del Cura Rioja Reserva is not a hugely complex wine, but a light delicious red that would go great with duck. Invite a few friends over for dinner this Saturday and celebrate Spanish Wine Week in style!