Gran Reserva y Mas: Spanish Wine 101

Now that you know the basics on the classifications of Spanish wine, we are ready for our next lesson: the aging of wine.  If you pick up a bottle of Spanish wine, you may notice the words “vino joven,” “crianza,” or a few others scrawled across the label.  Does it matter?  Absolutely.  By the end of this post, you’ll be speaking like a sommelier.

Driving Around La Rioja

In addition to the five-tier classification discussed in my previous post, the Consejo Regulador has requirements regarding how long wine must be aged in a wooden (typically American oak) barrel.

Vino joven: This wine has received very little aging in a wooden barrel.  These wines are meant to be consumed while very young and will not have the strong oak or wooden notes that are very typical of many Spanish wines.

Pair it with: Have you ever heard that you should never pair fish and red wine?  Well, forget that “rule.”  Because vino joven reds are typically lighter-bodied and fruity, they pair very nicely with bonito tuna and other seafood.


This joven is from Toro, a tiny DO region in Castilla y Leon.

Crianza: Crianza white and rose wines must be aged for at least 1 year, with at least 6 months in oak.  Crianza red wines must be aged for at least 2 years, with at least 6 months in oak.  The taste of fruit will be much more predominant in these wines, as they have not spent much time in the barrel.

Pair it with: Cheese!  More particularly, aged sheep cheese – such as Idiazabal (one of my favorites, it’s slightly smoky) and the infamous Manchego.  If you prefer carbs over dairy, you’ll be happy to know that a Crianza red wine will pair very nicely with pasta.


I discovered this Crianza at the Great Match event back in October.

Reserva: Reserva white and rose wines must be aged for at 2 years, with at least 6 months in oak.  Reserva red wines must be aged for at least 3 years, with at least 6 months in oak.

Pair it with: As we progress along the aging continuum, I find that the full-bodied wines pair very nicely with heavier, hearty dishes.  Reserva red wines go extremely well with leg of lamb and even seafood paella or fideua.


A fantastic 2001 Reserva from Fuenmayor - one of my favorite towns in La Rioja. Wines from Rioja Alta are said to be in the "Old World" style.

Gran Reserva: Gran Reserva white and rose wines must be aged for at least 4 years, with at least 6 months in oak.  Gran Reserva red wines must be aged for at least 5 years, with a minimum of 18 months in oak and a minimum of 36 months in the bottle.  Gran Reserva wines are not made every year, but you will see a lot of Riojas from 2001 and 2005 touting the Gran Reserva status as these were outstanding vintages.  The nose of Gran Reserva Riojas will most likely include spicy oak, dark red fruit, and sometimes, floral or vanilla notes.

Pair it with: Gran Reserva Riojas are characteristically spicy, smoky, and a little bit tannin-y.  After allowing the wine to breathe, it pairs quite nicely with acidic or vinegar-y food, like boquerones.  I also really like to pair a red Gran Reserva with a very hearty dish, such as arroz de pato.  Nothing like duck and a good red wine.


This Gran Reserva Rioja is from the Rioja Alavesa region. I've had it on the shelf for a few years now and it should be ready to drink!

How do you prefer your wine?  Lighter and fruity, or full-bodied with lots of tannins?  Or do you care more about the region or varietal (aka the type of grapes) than the aging process?  Do you put much thought into pairing your wine based on what you’re eating?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

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