The production of fine wines in Spain began many centuries ago when the Phoenicians (who were great sea traders) introduced the concept to the locals. Needless to say the tradition took root and Spain’s wine culture today has received critical acclaim internationally.
Spanish wine is categorized under a well-appointed production system that ensures the aging process is strictly observed. The ConsejoRegulador (Regulating Authority) is responsible for ascertaining the classification and aging grade of each wine.
Each aging level of a Spanish wine, whether red, rose or white wines is given it’s own name. These terms also tell something about the production process, characteristics and complexity of each age level.
The following is a list of the most important ages and some basic information for each:
The word “Joven” is Spanish for young, and these wines are usually released for consumption within a few years at the most. Most of these wines will see little or no aging in oak barrels and are identified as still being quite “fruity” when ready to be served.
Barrica and Roble
Wines labeled “barrica” or “roble” have seen some oak barrel aging maybe even as much as 4 months or more. “Barrica” comes from the French “barrique” which means barrel and Roble is the Spanish word for Oak. These wines are also meant to be drunk within a couple years of release as well, like Joven wines.
“Crianza”, which means “nurturing” or “nursing” in Spanish. This is the term for wines that have been aged in oak barrels considerably longer than a Barrica or Roble. Some regions require that their crianza wines are aged for at least 6 months, in more prestigious regions crianza wines receive as much as 12 months aging in oak barrels.
Crianza wines must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, either in their bottle or in barrels. The oak process gives these wines a smoother overtone. These wines also last as much as 5 years in the bottle. Wine makers usually select higher quality grapes for the production of Crianzas than they would for a Barrica, Joven or Roble.
“Reserva”, meaning “reserved” or “held back”, is the term for wines that are aged even longer, 36 months at least before releasing and with no less than 12 – 24 months of aging in oak barrels.
If a vintage does not meet the specifications set by the ConsejoRegulador they may not allow the wine maker to label their wine as “Reserva”. Wine makers use only top quality grapes for this long and intricate process to produce a very smooth, complex and full-bodied wine capable of being stored for up to 10 years after release.
Only the best vintages will bear the honorary mark of being “Gran Reserva”. These wines are considered the very best of their kind. They are made from only the best fruits carefully selected from the proper region to produce a wine like no other; they are also not produced prolifically as with other wines.
The aging process for a Gran Reserva is also long, approximately 60 months in total, and often well over 24 months in oak barrels.
After learning the various age labels of Spanish wine it also important to get familiarized with the various types of grapes as well as the regions of Spanish wine country.