DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RESERVA & GRAN RESERVA?
Spain is one of the few wine producing countries (if not the only) where practically ALL the wineries will only release their wine to the market when it is “ready to drink” following appropriate aging, not only in oak barrels but in the bottle as well.
Across the country, most wineries still adopt the aging classification system of “Roble”, “Crianza”, “Reserva”, and “Gran Reserva” that essentially guarantee the aging time of a wine. How long are the wines aged with this classification? Surprisingly these categories are similar, but not entirely consistent across Spain, starting with “Roble” (oak) which generally refers to young wine aged for a period of less than 6 months in total (both in barrel and bottle).
All “Crianza” wine produced in the regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero require a minimum of two years ageing, of which one year must be completed in barrel and the other in bottle. Other regions in Spain also require a total of two years aging for Crianza status, but with a minimum of only six months in oak.
In Rioja, “Reserva” wines must be aged a minimum of three years, with one year of that time in barrel, and “Gran Reserva” wines must be aged for five years, with two years in barrel at the minimum. Reserva wines across the rest of the country have a lower minimum barrel ageing period of 18 months. Another consideration is that only in Rioja is the size of the barrel limited to the standard 225L “Bordeaux barrel” which facilitates a greater contact of wine with wood.
That two-for-one offer on “Gran Reserva” at your local supermarket may not be such a tempting deal after all.
It follows that, “Reservas” and “Gran Reservas” should theoretically be “better wines” because they have been selected for extended ageing over others, but in direct contrast they are not necessarily richer or more powerful wines for the exact same reason. “Reservas” may actually be “less powerful wines” precisely because they have been aged for a longer period in possibly older barrels especially for the sole reason of achieving “Reserva” status, and hence a higher price. Similarly, a better value wine that is perfectly aged with only 10 months in barrel wouldn’t be allowed to be labelled as a “Crianza” (which officially would require a minimum of 12 months barrel ageing in Rioja).
The other issue with this focus on oak aging is that it can also overshadow the other critical and fundamental winemaking factors such as the location of the vineyard, “terroir” and the aging process in general – especially true when shorter barrel aging is preferred following wetter seasons, for example.
In summary, all cellars in Spain age their wine appropriately, and a well-made wine might not use the standard classification, and instead, should reveal more detail on the back label, and when compared to the vintage year on the bottle would provide more reliable clues about the aging.
Coming next. How to choose a good bottle of Spanish wine in a supermarket?