Why picking Rioja can be a barrel of fun
Areader is having difficulty finding choice in Rioja.
He’s relying on supermarkets and doesn’t have the options that come with city living. Rioja can be great, but it is one of those wines whose widespread appeal has spawned a lot of below-par offerings, trading on its reputation.
The style varies too. People love its grape, Tempranillo, which yields a juicy strawberry-style fruitiness and smoothness of tannin, so you can usually rely on it not to induce mouth-puckering dryness.
Mind you, oak-aged wine also draws tannins from the barrel, and you will know all about that if the fruit isn’t concentrated enough to absorb them. Oak is a big determining factor in Rioja reds.
Traditionally aged in American barrels, which heaps on a layer of coconutty sweetness, some producers are now using French oak. It’s not necessarily better or worse, just different. French or American aside, oak’s influence depends on the size and age of a barrel and the length of time a wine spends in it.
Typically, a crianza will spend a minimum of a year in a barrel, while a joven does little or no time in oak, and a roble is somewhere in between. On the other hand, a reserva and gran reserva spend longer periods in oak.
As well as Rioja, Tempranillo may be the basis of wines from other Spanish regions, including Ribera del Duero, Toro, Valdepeñas, Madrid and La Mancha, where oak ageing may vary. Sometimes it is not the region but the name of the grape that is prominent on the label, and it may appear as a Tempranillo alias, including Tinto de Toro, Tinto Fino, Tinto de Pais or Cencibel.
In Portugal, it is called both Tinta Roriz and Aragones. So if you are searching for choice in Rioja, you may want to broaden your horizons.