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Rioja wine guide Rioja wine

There’s so much more to red Rioja than it seems at first glance. The fancy labels, the gold wire, the hessian wrap, the seals on the bottle, all give the impression that each bottle is as elaborately made as the next. This, of course, is far from being the case. Others may have minimalist packaging but conceal a truly great wine. How to tell the difference?

Rioja is a large region with over 300 producers; most of the wine made here is sold very young, without any oak aging, and just becomes an anonymous supermarket brand or similar. Take a look at the label: if you see the words Sin Crianza, this wine has never seen the inside of an oak barrel and therefore will lack that lovely toasty vanilla aroma we all know and love.

This flavour comes from the American oak preferred by top producers here. Go instead for a Crianza wine, which has spent at least six months in the barrel and a total of two years aging after the harvest Many of these are stunningly good and very affordable.

Next up the scale comes Reserva, a wine that has been aged for a full year in barrel and then kept in the bottle for two more years. Finally, Gran Reserva spends two years in the barrel and three more in the bottle. These older wines are paler in colour, subtler in flavour than a typical red Rioja, but linger on the palate for a long time.

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