La Rioja, Spain
Rioja wines are known for being big red Spanish wines with high tannins. Mostly Tempranillo wines, it's structure and fruitiness makes it a good pairing with meats. With a variety of styles dictated by it's classification system, you have a broad range of flavors from zippy fruit to heavy oak flavors. Blending grapes include Carignan, Graciano & Garnacha, but they are not often used to create single varietal wines in Rioja. For white wines, Tempranillo Blanco, Verdejo or Viura can sometimes be found within the La Rioja region.
Rioja Oriental, Alta, and Alavesa are different sub-regions. Oriental or Baja is the most eastern, and are more fruit-forward, designed to drink right away. Alta & Alavesa produces more elegant style wines, thanks to it's elevation & cool temperature. They are often more tannic & acidic
Pair Alta & Alavesa with high-fat meats, or cheese dishes. The richer, plush wines from Oriental would go well with spicier foods like chili con carne
There are 4 main styles of Rioja, with different ageing requirements
- The generic Rioja has no ageing requirement, and is often young and fresh, focusing on the fruity flavors of the Tempranillo grape
- Crianza is a step up in aging, aiming at creating a high quality daily drinking wine. Not too rich without sacrificing body, reds & whites have a minimum one year or 6 month cask ageing respectively
- Reserva is where wines get serious. Produced when there is ageing potential for the vintage, reds are aged for a minimum of 3 years, with a year at least in casks. A good balance between the fruity Crianza and the oaky Gran Reserva, enthusiasts would often have a preference for this style
- Selected wines are aged for at least 2 years in oak & 3 in bottle to create a Gran Reserva style. What’s interesting about Gran Reserva is that most winemakers select the best grapes for this level and age them for as long as the wine needs. This means most of the new release Gran Reservas are around 10 years old or older when you first see them available.