lunes, 13 de agosto de 2012

Diferent Types of Rioja Wines


DIFERENT TYPES OF RIOJA WINES

As well as considering the various natural quality ingredients (clima­te, soil, grape varieties), and the array of possible nuances in a region such as La Rioja, man's own contribution subtly improving cultivation, production and ageing, also deserves a mention. La Rioja is also heavily influenced by its his­tory, and has a wealth of experience in researching and applying new techniques to all kinds of soils. Moreover, there is an abundance of wineries, carried along by the prosperous trade, and this styles.

Although consumers tend to have a rather stereotypical, cliché image of La Rioja wine, it is nevertheless true that wine from La Rioja has a thousand faces. This incredible diversity is even more significant than the old tradition of making blended wines with produce from various areas. Wine from La Rioja Alta was used to add tannin and acidity to wines from La Rioja Baja that have more body and alcoholic volume, while wines from La Rioja Alavesa were included to enhance the particular qualities of a certain property, and which gave rise to the first estate wines (Viña Tondonia, Viña Pomal and others with the prefix "viña"), was abandoned for a while, but is now making a come back, modifying production.

Moreover, we mustn't forget history. Throughout time, new techniques and styles have been introduced without completely displacing the established wines that have more or less maintained the same market popularity. Over a century ago, the La Rioja wineries adopted the production and ageing methods they use today, but local farmers continued to make wine the traditional way (albeit duly modified). As a result, even today, the larger firms still look to small producers to bulk buy the traditional wines for blending.

Consequently, as a name, La Rioja can refer to a whole assortment of very different wines. They range from the beloved, classic "claretes", that have very little colour and need to be blended with the "pardillos" that dominated La Rioja production around the 15th century; to the almost inky-black reds of avant-garde La Rioja, not forgetting the various white wines and the whole range of modern productions. Moreover, we also find sparkling wines, known as "Cava", not "La Rioja", and other lesser known productions that show considerable promise, such as the Moscatel wines.

There follows a brief description of the various wines types produced in La Rioja. Consideration has been given to the official classification and also the subtleties that all the traditional and modern factors have contributed over the years, and which are still conserved today.

- Young whites: These are made essentially from the Viura grape. This variety is somewhat light in aromas (reminiscent of apples and pears), even though it gives freshness and structure to the wine.

- Barrel-fermented whites:  The first ones reached the market in 1989 and 1990. Producers turned to barrel fermentation to try and produce white wines with greater body than their younger counterparts, and fresher overtones than the classic barrel-aged whites. Their attempts appear to have been successful, as several barrel-fermented white wines have appeared on the market, largely overtaking the barrel-aged whites.

In fact, barrel fermentation is an age old practice in La Rioja wineries. This method was used for two reasons: to be able to partially control the fermentation temperature when producing small quantities of wine, and to "winise", or prepare, the new barrels before filling them with red wines.

This approach appears to have caught on well, and the most inquisitive wineries are trying to develop it as an alternative method when there is an excess of white grapes. A variety of wood types are being used to ferment the grapes, as well as large vats. Producers are also using the "battonage" method (lees stirring), and running experiments on bottle ageing, following traditional techniques, to produce personal, quality wines.

- Crianza whites: Just as with the reds, white wines are also produced as Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. The three varieties have to fulfil the same requirement of a minimum of six months barrel ageing. However the difference with white wines is that the Crianza must be aged for at least two years, the Reserva at least three and the Gran Reserva, four years. This is reminiscent of traditional production, very few examples of which remain. There are even fewer examples of wines that maintain the conventional practice, which, in this case, is a long maturing period in the bottle, lasting several years, before entering the market.

In the past a type of wine that used to be very popular but is now hardly seen, namely, the semi-dry whites. Years ago they were sold as the "sauternes type" or the "sauternes strain". They were always made with overripe grapes, as is done today, and their high acidity favoured barrel ageing and a long maturing period in the bottle. As a result, some extraordinary white wines appeared on the market. However, when consumers began to turn their noses up at these quality semi-dry wines, other sweet, ordinary wines were introduced. Nevertheless, all they really managed to do was spoil the overall image.

- Rosé and claretes: The "clarete" is definitely a very popular, classic wine in La Rioja. Consumers love it both as little intensity or aroma, but is has excellent body and develops an elegant structure and flavour in the mouth. It is usually made with the Garnacha grape, although blends of red and white varieties are also used. The favourites come from Garnacha country in the Najerilla Valley, and the main producers are to be found in San Asencio, Cordovin and Badaran.

Rosé wines are a more recent invention and, in fact, they evolved almost out of necessity. Certain producers wanted to expand their range, as they prize upholding the good reputation of La Rioja, irrespective of the type of wine. Both the Garnacha and the Tempranillo varieties are used (although it is not usual to blend both), and some of Spain's leading Rosé wines come from La Rioja.

- Non-aged barrel reds: The traditional production methods that favoured open or semi-open presses and whole bunches of grapes (carbonic maceration: intracellular enzymatic fermentation in whole grapes), have been maintained by some farmers, and a few years ago this practice took off again. These so called "farmer" or "carbonic maceration" reds, with their strong fruity aromas and hints of liquorice, caught on very well in the fashionable framework of young, fruity wines that were all the rage up until the 1980s. They can be proud of their market success.

Sales of the so-called "de-stalked" wines were also boosted. Their name is derived from the fact that they are made with grapes removed from the stem and pressed, following the conventional method. To a certain extent, these young reds replaced the old "second year" wines, that had not been aged in the barrel and were only placed on the market after "maturing" in vats for several months or a year.

- Half Crianza reds: The D.O.C. Rioja sets a minimum one year term for ageing its red Crianzas but these "half" or "semi Crianza" reds have been barrel-aged for less. They are generally light wines, easy to drink. In fact, ageing them further would detract from their personality since the woody flavour would overwhelm their fruity essence. Half Crianzas are perfect for the market, although they only appeared fairly recently. They aim to fill the niche that the young wines, particularly "second year" wines, have covered up until now.

- Author, Alta Expresion, Design Wines: These can be confused with young wines, or semi Crianzas because of their appearance, but they are very different. They evolved as the result of a rather revolutionary concept of La Rioja wine that began to make headway in the 90s.

Generally, they are Reserva-style wines, with a greater structure and potency than the actual classified Reservas, although these do fully fulfil their classification requirements. The producers have opted voluntarily to not market them as Reservas, or to use another form of classification. They argue that the Reserva classification requirements to determined by the wine's characteristics, which alter with each harvest, and not by bureaucratic rules. These producers are usually to be found in the most avantgarde wineries, where the label's reputation is prized over commercial classification "tags".

- Red Crianzas: In this case, the D.O.C. Rioja requirements are stricter than the general Spanish ruling. According to the Regulating Council, red Crianzas are wines marketed in their third year (which, in the trade, means more than the two years ageing, i.e. a portion of their harvest year, the whole of the following year and the corresponding portion of the next year), period in Burgundy oak barrels (225 litres) and a few months in the bottle. The Crianzas created the image of La Rioja wine: easy to drink, with an elegant balance of fruit essence and woody overtones acquired from barrel-ageing. They are not expected to show any great laying down potential, but they must be fresh and reach the market at an optimum drinking time.

Nevertheless, there are two exceptions to this rule, namely, the more commercial Crianzas, and the ultimate avantgarde wines. The commercial wines have an evident woody flavour that conceals their slight body and engulfs their typical hints of vanilla and coconut. These essences are derived from the American oak traditionally used in La Riojan wineries. At the other end of the scale, we find a range of fairly new wines that have tried to respect the character of their grape, using French oak, which, in theory, tends to be more grape friendly. They have an intense, vibrant colour and personality, similar to premature Reservas. They show good laying-down potential.

- Red Reservas: These are put on the market after spending three years in the winery, and a minimum of one year in the barrel. A Reserva wine is a winery's hallmark of quality, according to the traditional criteria: it is the wine for keeping, the one which restaurants buy (or used to buy) to lay down in their cellars and offer to customers once the wine had had enough time to "mature". Reserva wines are put on the market "whole", with enough strength to remain for several years in a restaurant or private cellar.

Although, in theory, this type of wine must be quite hard (astringent and acidic) since it has not fully developed, it is true that most wineries wait until they have reached a sufficient level of maturity before launching them on the market.
Reserva wines are the pinnacle of great Riojan wine, and embrace a variety of wine types: selection-based wines (where producers select the vineyards, the grapes during harvest, the wine after fermentation, the barrels, etc.), those produced with stateof-the-art techniques, those originating from the best vineyards in each winery, and those which are sometimes completely separated from the rest of the grapes to produce estate wines. In fact, the term "estate wines" is both a very contemporary and traditional concept. The modern producers focus their creations around the "native soil", which is essentially what the old producers did by naming their wines after a particular vineyard.

Some of this wines are the historical "fine Riojan wines" that were sold after long periods in the barrel (preferably cured barrels as opposed to new barrels) and rack. The commercial Reservas reach the market in a very pure state but, since they are notably acidic, they are not fully matured and need to be left to develop slowly. As a result, the time spent settling in the barrel, and their noticeable acid content, gives the wines a balmy flavour. Also, their long time in the rack softens them and leaves them velvety smooth.

- Gran Reserva reds: The Gran Reserva red is defined as a wine "that originates from exceptional vintages” and is sold after a minimum of two years ageing in the barrel, followed by a further three years, minimum, in the bottle. It is a luxury, classic red wine that enters the market once it is mature, ready for drinking, and practically in its optimum period of development. To a certain extent, it is also the bastion of the most classic wines, virtually dedicated to the style of the "fine wines of La Rioja". The most traditional firms hold it to be a highly reputable wine.
The Gran Reserva is the least affected by the new production methods, as most
of the new wineries chose not to include this type in their range. Instead, their luxury wines are their Reservas or exceptional harvests, such as the so-called selection wines or the estate wines, which are making a comeback. Nevertheless, some new wineries have added to this line, and there are always some Gran Reservas that are put on the market a touch on the early side, so that they can develop in the bottle.

- Cavas: The production of sparkling wines according to the traditional method is a deeply rooted tradition in La Rioja. In fact, "champán" was made in Haro long before the Raventós family began cava production in Codornlu. In fact, it was made up to twenty years before: in 1852 some French producers founded the firm Savignon Freres, which later became Bodegas Bilbaínas, and they immediately started making sparkling wine. For many years, this winery in Haro continued to sell its "champán" to French companies. Occasionally, they used labels bearing the trademark of reputable Champagne firms that sold what was really cava from La Rioja, as their own produce. Eventually, the winery became part of the Codorniu group, which has respected tradition and continues to use Bodegas Bilbaínas historical label, Royas Carlton.

The traditional production of sparkling wines continued for a long time in several wineries in the region. Consequendy, when the D.O. Cava was created, 18 villages from La Rioja were included in its territorial limits. Cava from La Rioja is made primarily from the Viura grape, with an important percentage of Malvasia from La Rioja that adds aromas and acidity.

- Sweet wines: Throughout the Ebro basin, and in fact, throughout Spain itself, the production and consumption of sweet wines is a deeply-rooted tradition. The aromatic Moscatel grape has been the leading variety used in production. Its cultivation has been maintained to produce these wines and mistelas (primarily blending wines), and also to be sold as fruit. Nevertheless, it has not made a major impact on consumers and so bottling wineries have never paid much attention to this type of wine. In fact, the Moscatel grape is not even included in the D.O.C. Rioja Regulation and very little vineyard space is dedicated to it. If planted at all, it tends to be mixed with other white varieties in old vineyards. However, the Cidacos Valley still has some Moscatel vineyards and production reaches fairly significant levels. The leading variety is Moscatel de Grano Menudo (small seed), the best quality strain in the Moscatel family (it is the same as Moscatel de Frontignac). Its characterise tic are very much in line with current consumer trends. In fact, the quality potential of this grape has caught the attention of the La Rioja Government, which is looking into the possibility of granting it Denomination of Origin status in an attempt to protect these singular, unknown wines.

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