What is Rioja?
Rioja is in North Central Spain and is the country’s most well-known wine region. One of its distinct characteristics is the effect of oak ageing which was introduced as early as the 18th century by influencers from Bordeaux. This oak ageing process and the distinctive vanilla flavour in the wine is seen as its signature trademark of the region. More recently however, wine makers are trying to make Rioja wine with less oak influence.
What does Rioja Wine Taste Like?
The rules around the style and labelling of their wines is based around the minimum amount of time maturing in both barrel and then bottle before release.
There are 4 main styles:
Rioja Genérico - young, fruity wines that have spent less than 1 year in barrels - often no time at all. This is a good way to enjoy the flavours of the Tempranillo grape itself. These wines account for around 40% of Rioja wines and showcase the juicy fruit flavours, with less tannin acidity. They are not suitable for further ageing. These wines were previously labelled Joven (which simply means young) but is no longer used on new bottles of Rioja.
Crianza - wines with this label have to be aged for at least 1 year in oak and for a few months in bottle before being released. Crianza Rioja is more full bodied with notes of vanilla, toast and coffee, blending with the red and black fruits. Wines in this style can be very good value and are often the style people try first when discovering Rioja.
Reserva - to be labelled Reserva the wine must have been aged for at least 3 years, with 1 year minimum in oak barrels and the rest in bottle, although many producers go beyond these minimums. Only the best fruit from the harvest is used in Reserva wines. They show significant signs of aging, with subtle fresh fruit characteristics and more dominant notes of cigar box and dried fruit. Many wine lovers say that this is Rioja's sweet spot between the fruitiness of young Rioja and the oakey mature style of Gran Reserva.
Gran Reserva - Made only in years of exceptional harvest of the best quality fruit, Gran Reserva wines must be a minimum of 5 years old, with 2 years minimum in oak barrels and 3 years in bottle before release. These have the lots more savoury, oaky flavour as the freshness of the fruit fades over time, but they also have the most tannin and are the most suitable for long term ageing. Only 2% of Rioja is Gran Reserva, which along with the additional ageing time makes them more expensive. Many people consider these to be the best Rioja wines.
Rioja can also be made in white or rosé styles. White Rioja is made primarily with Viura (Macabeo) along with other indigenous grape varieties and is also traditionally aged in oak, although for shorter periods than the reds. They can be very age-worthy though. More and more unoaked examples are now being made as modern drinkers favour fresh, fruity white wine.
Rioja rosé wines are made mostly with Garnacha which offers plenty of juicy strawberry and raspberry fruit. They have previously been only allowed to make in darker shades of pink/red but are now allowed paler shades too.
Key grape varieties
Tempranillo is the foundation of the region's best wines, offering flavours of raspberry, plum, blackcurrant and cherry fruit and a structure that is very suited to oak ageing.
Grenacheis often blended with Tempranillo and adds body to the blend, along with other local varieties like Graciano.
Viurahas flavours of honeydew melon, lime peel and fragrant herbal notes like lemon verbena and thyme. With oak ageing it develops flavours of hazelnut.
This collection features our best rioja wines, chosen after great consideration (and lots of tasting.) If you're looking for a Rioja wine delivery to send as a gift or add to your wine rack, get in touch and our online wine advisors can help you find the right bottle for you. We make it easy to buy rioja wine online.