The Various Types of Rioja Wine

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Rioja is maybe the best known Spanish wine, but did you know there are various styles of Rioja?

First, let’s review a bit about Rioja. It is a region in North-Central Spain that’s known for its wine. And, like most Old-World wines, the wine label identifies the wine region, not the grape varietal.

Rioja wine is made from Tempranillo grapes but is usually a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo (a.k.a. Carignan).

But, have you’ve ever noticed that a Rioja wine is made in various styles?

The most basic Rioja wine is usually labeled simply as “Rioja.” Makes sense, right? It is aged for a matter of months, bottled and sold. It’s bright and fruity with big cherry flavors.

Then there is “Crianza.” You may not have noticed this word on the label since it doesn’t immediately mean anything to an English speaker. But, one of its translations means ‘aging.’ And, indeed, this style of Rioja is required to be aged for one year in oak and spend one year in the bottle before being sold. The controlling board in Rioja, the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja, ensures that these quality requirements are met.

Next is “Reserva.” Now this is a term that appears on a lot of wines, but in Rioja it actually means something. A Rioja Reserva is required to be aged for one year in oak and then spend two year in the bottle before being sold.

Finally, there is “Gran Reserva.” This wine must spend a minimum of two years in oak and three years in the bottle before being sold. But, often these wines are closer to ten years old when sold. This wine is produced from the best grapes and ends up with the best tannin structure.

So, when buying a Rioja, pay attention to the label and turn the bottle around to the backside to look for one of the identifying stickers. Then, you’ll know exactly what you are getting.

Cheers! Or in Spanish “iSalud!

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Behind the Cork™ - Wine of the Week

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2015 Beronia Crianza Rioja ($15)

The Rioja region of Spain is noted for its Tempranillo and this one from Beronia is indeed noteworthy.

This is a typical Rioja blend of grapes consisting of 91% Tempranillo, 8% Garnacha and 1% Mazuelo (a.k.a Carignan).

The Tempranillo in this wine defines its structure. The Grenache provides more berry flavors and spices while adding to its wonderful aroma. Finally, the Carignan, even this wine’s 1%, adds acidity and an ever-so-slight hint of tannin.

With nice bright fruit on the nose, this wine immediately yields red fruit flavors of cherry and raspberry. Its medium body allows the fruit flavors to shine though.

This wine’s label includes the word “crianza.” In case you are not familiar with this term, crianza indicates that wine has spent one year in oak barrels.

The oak aging was done in mixed barrels with American oak staves and French oak caps. This process added subtle spice flavors and yielded low tannin. This makes for a easy finish with each sip.

This is a very nice wine that can pair with lighter fare and also stands up nicely with bigger-flavored foods.

As with all wines featured as a Behind the Cork™ - Wine of the Week, it’s very affordable and easily attainable. Enjoy! Cheers!


Disclosure of Wine Sample Submission: I received this wine at no cost for review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Sample Provided by Rebekah Polster of Donna White Communications

This wine is imported by Gonzalez Byass.


Wine Fun Facts - Champagne

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Champagne is probably the best known wine in the world. And, there’s a lot to know it about this wine.

Here are some fun-facts about Champagne:

  • Champagne is not made from Champagne grapes

  • Champagne is typically produced from three grapes — Pinot Noir (Yes! A red wine grape!), Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier

  • To be called Champagne, it must be produced in the Champagne region of France. Otherwise, it’s called Sparkling Wine

  • California can produce Champagne – such as Korbel, Cook’s or André – and it is perfectly legal to be called Champagne. The loophole that makes this legal stems from a ruling in 2005, after two decades of court battles, when the U.S. and the EU reached an agreement. In exchange for easing trade restrictions on wine, the American government agreed that Champagne would no longer appear on domestic wine labels – that is, unless a producer was already using the name

  • The first step in making Champagne is to make the wine, like any other wine, in a barrel or tank and bottle it

  • The wine becomes carbonated by a second fermentation inside the bottle that is initiated by adding a solution of sugar and yeast. As the yeast consumes the sugar, it gives off carbon dioxide which stays trapped in the wine since the bottle is capped

  • Champagne bottle are stored with their neck down during the second fermentation so that the yeast will settle in the neck

  • The upside down bottles are regularly turned to ensure all the yeast ends up in the neck of the bottle in a process called riddling

  • The Champagne bottle is then opened and the spent yeast is removed or disgorged

  • Finally, some additional wine and sugar is added (the dosage) to balance the Champagne’s acidity

  • This process of making Champagne is called the méthode champenoise

So, there you have it. A few fun facts about the most famous sparkling wine in the world - Champagne. Cheers!

Behind the Cork™ - Wine of the Week

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2015 1000 Stories Zinfandel ($18)

I’ve had my eyes on this one for a while now. It differentiates itself by noting on the front label that it is “Bourbon Barrel Aged.” Aging wines in oak barrels is common, but I’ve not seen a wine aged in Bourbon barrels.

So, I was actually a bit hesitant. I’m not into gimmicky wines. And, I certainly don’t need a Bourbon-flavored wine.

This 1000 Stories Zinfandel is aged in new and used Bourbon barrels. But, don’t let that dissuade you. The barrels do not impart a big or smoky flavor. Actually, I found this Zinfandel on the fruity side.

So, the back label states that the Bourbon barrels impart “…charred vanilla, dried herbs and a hint of caramel.” Just what you’d expect from an oak barrel.

If the “Bourbon Barrel Aged” 1000 Stories Zinfandel has not been on your list, give it a try. It’s a worthy Behind the Cork™ - Wine of the Week with its attainability and affordability. Cheers!