Classifying Wines by their Age: Roble, Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva,

So today we are going to talk about the way in which wines are classified based on their ageing process. An issue that often causes confusion among consumers, perhaps even a bit of controversy.

We’ve all heard the words Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva thrown about; but what do they really mean?

Let’s begin!!

We shall start with the youngest type of wines: Young wines (vinos jóvenes). These are wines that do not undergo any ageing proccess. After the fermentation has taken place, the wine is bottled and ready for consumption. Usually it is recommended that these wines are consumed within the year. Young wines are fresh, fruity and with much nerve as they have not been tuned with any ageing.

Following these, we have Semi-Crianza wines, or Roble wines. These are wines that have spent a maximum of 6 months in oak barrels. These have not been aged long enough to be considered Crianza, but unlike Young Wines, they still undergo an ageing phase during its production.

Crianza wines are those that have been aged for a minimum of 24 months, at least 6 of which have been spend in Oak barrels that have a capacity no more than 330 litres. The regions of La Rioja and Ribera del Duero are slightly stricter, as by law 12 months must be spent in the barrel opposed to the usual 6, and the barrels are not allowed to exceed 225 litres capacity. White and Rosé wines however have a minimum ageing period of only 18months. Crianza wines are usually wines with a good balance beween the fruit and wood, still lively but more refined due to its ageing in the barrel.

Reserva wines, however, have a minimum aging period of 36 months, at least 12 of which are spent in oak barrels no larger than 330litres. Unlike Crianza wines, Reserva wines then spends the rest of the 36 months period ageing in the bottle. Again for white and rosé wines this time is slightly reduced to 24 months, with a mandatory minimum period of 6 months in oak barrels. For Reserva wines the time spent in the barrel is important, as it is here that the wine is tamed, polished and refined.

And finally, we find Gran Reserva wines. Wines that are aged for 60 months, of which at least 18 have been spent in oak barrels no more than 330 liters. The remaining time until the age of 60 months have been in the bottle. In Rioja and Ribera del Duero, time in the barrel has to reach 48 months and the barrels can not exceed 225 liters. If we talk about the white and rose wines, the time drops to 48 total months, 6 of them necessarily barrel. Gran Reserva wines have a strong oak wood very presence. They are perfectly tuned wines, where the conjunction between fruit and wood reaches its peak.

A common misconception is that a wine will always improve with age, i.e the longer the ageing process the better it is. However, this is not always the case. Indeed, a longer ageing process results in a more refined wine with a larger woody influence. The wood gives the wine certain flavorings and brings out its own properties. But excessive oak aging may also result in a flat wine, no character, because the wood can exceed the original aromas of the wine.

The second step of aging, aging in bottle, gives the wine complexity and elegance enriching its flavors in a vaccumed (without oxygen) bottle. But not all wines improve with time in the bottle. Only those wines from great vintages are prepared to survive as long aging.

Although by law consumers are guaranteed the correct classification, an increasing number of wineries are reluctant to label their wines using this classification. At the end of the day, we must remember that each vintage is different, and there are many wineries that believe that the aging time of a wine must come marked by the wine itself and not by a law requiring a rigid time aging. It is after all the winemaker is the one who knows their product, and will decide for each vintage the aging time required. We must not forget that the purpose of aging is to improve the organoleptic properties of wine, not to meet legislation.

However, there are famed wine making regions where aging has long been an important hallmark. For example, Reservas from La Rioja and Ribera del Duero, or even good value wines from other regions such as Priorat and Toro, which historically has sought the character in the fruit or personality above ground wood.

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