Joven, Crianza, Semi-crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva are typical categories for Spanish red wines. This is a particular wine classification which you won´t find anywhere else in the world. In Spanish, the process of aging wines is called raising or criar – it is the same word for children and plants – and so the oak aged wines themselves came to be called Crianzas. Spanish winemakers not only age wine in barrels but continue the ageing process in bottles. They believe this non-oxygenated environment further develops the wine giving it a rounder, richer taste and I heartily agree. The Spanish process calls for both oxidized and reductive ageing, the latter stabilizes and evolves and the former rounds and polishes the wine before it heads into the market.
Because pre-aging is built into the winemaking process, you find richer, more complex wines at a lower price point than other countries where cellar aged means expensive. While this is true throughout Spain, in Rioja it is taken to another level. Riojan winemakers age their Tempranillo wines in oak barrels, for specific lengths of time–the length determines the aroma and taste characteristics of that wine. The longer the wine sits in the barrel the more intense the oak characteristics become. You know the age and of the wine by it´s name thus allowing you to confidently choose what you like. Take a look at the chart below and memorize accordingly.
NEW(ish) – Semi-crianza, fewer months in the cask and bottle. A compromise as younger winemakers started bucking the system.
- Crianza – 2-year-old wine, a minimum of 1 year in the oak cask and 1 years in the bottle.
- Reserva – 3-year-old wine, a minimum of 1 year in oak cask and 2 years in the bottle.
- Gran Reserva – 6-year-old wine, a minimum of 2 years in oak casks followed by at least 36 months in the bottle.
Add to this Joven, wine that may or may not have had a short stint inside a barrel.
As of late, many winemakers are chucking this system altogether in favor of a looser, case by case process which takes into account the particular characteristics of that grape and adding barrel and bottle time as needed to realize the grape´s full potential. On many of those wines you will find a barrel symbol with a number nearby.
Now, go forth and enjoy!