Wednesday, September 4, 2019


I am in La Rioja, Spain. Traditionally, red wine has been grouped in Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, according to the age profile in barrel and bottle. Other criteria, mainly maximum yield, are not particularly demanding. As a result, there is a huge investment in barrels, as Reservas are the most prominent wines for many wineries.

Over the last few years, this system has come under strong criticism from wineries who wish to show vineyard terroir on the basis that wine ageing does not say anything about quality nor origin. So from the 2017 vintage onwards, wineries are allowed to show individual vineyards within the Rioja classification on the label. Three soft criteria need to be fulfilled, and the wine needs to be approved by a committee. This system is neither objective nor does it guarantee quality, claim a number of leading wineries who have opted out of the system altogether.

So at first blush, it looks like a traditionalist vs. modernist scenario similar to what happened in Piedmont in the 1990s. However, it is much more complicated than that. What the argument is largely about is the dominance of fruit or oak. Yet, as I found out on day 1, there are many ways to skin the cat. These are the approaches of the wineries I visited.
- Rioja Alta: Traditional approach, but a second winery with single vineyard focus.
- Roda: French oak (American is traditional) to reduce oak impact, blended wines, but no crianza, reserva etc. labelling
- Marques de Riscal: traditional
- Lopez de Heredia: American oak, but fruit orientation by using 8-15 year old barrels

On day 2 I visited wineries which have opted out of the system altogether using mostly French oak and shorter maturation periods.

I will report on tastings in the next few posts.

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