Here’s the scene: you’re standing in the wine aisle at the store trying to pick out a wine to pair with dinner. There’s lots of options, but in the end you reach for something you know because it’s too risky to grab a bottle you’ve never had.
Sound familiar? Yeah, for me too. It’s frustrating sometimes isn’t it? You want to explore and maybe find a new favorite but honestly, wine isn’t cheap, and when you’re treating yourself to a glass you want that glass to make you happy you poured it. Ultimately, most wine regions or varietals you just kind of need to learn from trial and error. But some regions have little tricks to help you at least increase your chances of grabbing a bottle you like. Rioja is one of those regions.
Rioja is made from Tempranillo grapes, it’s got great structure, good tannin levels and pairs really well with food. Rioja also happens to have a classification system. That system is based on how long the wine has been aged in barrels and then in bottles, making it a good gauge for consumers to base their purchase on even if they have never had that specific brand. As you might have guessed, the longer the wine ages in barrels, the higher the price tends to get as well. But I will tell you this 1) Trader Joe’s usually has great wines for awesome deals and 2) it’s usually worth spending a few extra bucks as the aging and oak contact tend to give the wine a wonderful added dimension with more robust tannins and flavor.
Check out this article and image on Wine Folly to see the classifications and what they are defined by, but here is the basic breakdown.
Gran Reserva – 2 yrs oak, 3 yrs bottle
Reserva – 1 yr oak, 2 yrs bottle
Crianza – 1 yr oak, 1 yr bottle
Rioja – low/no oak, 1-2 yrs aging
Rioja Reserva, I think it was $20 at Whole Foods, paired really well with dinner both nights I sipped it and is perfect for any type of grilled meat.