When we think of Spanish wine, we immediately think of one that is both red and strong. Rioja wine is one of the many red wines that has genuinely surpassed its domestic glory and achieved world renown. One sip of this wine and we are instantly transported to the beautiful landscapes in Spain, experiencing it with every essence included from the beautiful nectar you’re consuming. All that in just one sip of Rioja.
The Rioja is recognized for its tannins and structure, as well as its fruity characteristics and with this respect holds quite a few similarities with Cabernet Sauvignon. In a way, it is the perfect wine for those that like Cabernet, but at the same time also look for the more fruity and specific cherry flavor often found with wines such as the Pinot Noir.
Rioja wine is a blended from a few varieties, with Terminillo being the primary grape and Garnacha often added to increase the fruitiness. Graciano and Mazuelo are two more grape varieties that are often combined in the making of Rioja wine.
The name is derived from the region where it all started – Rioja region. The Tempranillo wine variety is an indigenous variety that is used to make wines for over 2,000 years. Spanish people and winemakers are proud to the fact that it is born and cultivated in Spain, and not brought from abroad like France or Italy.
Red wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux in average cost more, but that doesn’t mean that they are any better than the Rioja. This wine matches them in any sense, offering top quality for a much lower price. A bottle of red wine from the French regions may be in the range of $100’s, while a Rioja red wine can be purchased for less than half of that. In other words, you get great value for your money.
When looking to purchase a Rioja, what matters the most is the level of classification. Presently there are four levels of classification, and they are all presented on the bottle’s label. The classification system is like the one found on the Burgundy Cru – the classification level all depends on how much time the Rioja aged in oak.
This means that the wine spent only a few months in oak before being bottled. Due to that, the wine will have the ripest taste of all Rioja wine types.
This means that the wine spent at least one year in oak. After it was removed from the oak, it spent a few more months in the bottle as well. Only after that, it can be sold.
Winemakers use only the best grapes to make it. It is made only when a year is considered to be good. Reserva means that the wine spent one year in oak and two more in the bottle. That makes for a total of three years of aging. What’s fascinating is that wine like that can be bought for prices ranging from $15 to $30. By any standards that’s a steal for a wine of that quality. French wines of similar taste can easily cost twice or three times that.
This wine is made only when a growing season is considered to be exceptional by experts. Not just the seasons need to be exceptional, but it is made from the best grapes. For a Rioja to be labeled Gran Reserva needs to be aged minimum two years in oak and three more in a bottle before being released on the market. In 2013, the Gran Reserva was named wine of the year.
The great thing about Rioja is that it pairs with almost any food. However, it goes best with strong cheese and meat, types of food that feature savory flavors that can counter the strength of the wine. All in all, the food pairing is pretty much the same as with the Bordeaux.