One of the main and easyest ways to carry out a Rioja wine classification is oak-aging. One of the traits that sets Rioja wines apart is their excellent aptitude for ageing, a quality that is exclusive to great wines.
Rioja wine evolves through appropiate ageing in which oak wood plays a decisive role. Their virtues become more prominent and slowly acquire new aromas and flavours. Rioja wines are aged in 225 litre oak casks, where the wine experiences a slow evolution, and eventually acquires aromas and flavours released by the tanins in the wood. This is the traditional ageing method of great wines, a natural and more costly process than modern proposals of a more industrial oenology. The ageing process is afterwards completed in the bottle, where the wine continues to evolve until it reaches its peak. Great wines from historic vintages sleep in bottles for decades until they are transformed into true oenological gems.
Rioja wines can be classified into four categories depending on the ageing process and the amount of time that the wine spends in oak. The four categories can be easily and clearly identified looking a the label that can be found at the back of every Rioja bottle. Each category has a different colour label for quick and easy identification.
Guarantee Of Origin Rioja
This is the basic form of the wine. The origin and vintage are guaranteed. Usually wines in their first or second year which preserve their fresh, fruity, primary characteristics and haven´t been aged in oak. The label you will find in the back of the bottle is green.
For a wine to be labeled a Crianza, it must be at least in its third year and must have spent a minimum of 1 year in oak. Following its removal from oak, the wine will remain bottled until it is sold. It is the most widely available level of Rioja wine due to its high quality and incredibly affordable price of around 15$. Red colour label in the back of the bottle.
These wines are made from selected grapes of the best vintages. A Reserva wine must be aged a minimum of three years, with at leat one year in oak and the rest in bottle. You can find excellent Reserva wines in the 15-30$ range. Brown colour label in the back of the bottle.
Wines made from selected grapes from exceptional vintages. These wines must spend at least 2 years in oak casks and another 3 years in bottle before it can be sold. Blue colour label in the back of the bottle.
The four models of numbered labels that should accompany every bottle of Rioja wine constitute a document that guarantees the origin, vintage, and quality of the wine. These labels also provide an easy and quick Rioja wine classification to anyone. The characteristics of each vintage determine the amount of wine that winemakers will assign to each ageing category (Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva).