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Rioja is a variety of red wine that's grown in the northern regions of Spain, specifically in La Rioja, Navarre, and Alava. Like Champagne, a Rioja wine isn't technically a Rioja unless it's grown in these areas. It's similar to Cabernet Sauvignon because of its tannins and body, but it has a fruitier taste. Throwing a handful of fruit snacks in a Cabernet won't necessarily recreate the Rioja, so it's best to just buy a bottle of the real thing.
What Does Rioja Taste Like?
Rioja is hard to define and describe to others, just like you might feel after reading a Stephen Hawking essay. However, its tastes are usually broken apart into two groups: traditional and modern. While both are aged in oak barrels, each has different notes. Traditional Rioja has bright acidity and a full flavor, expressing hints of coffee and local spices. It's best enjoyed directly after purchase, so carrying a wine corker in your pocket might not be a bad idea.
Modern Rioja breaks from the traditional in that it isn't always ready to drink. Most develop their full flavor after being poured in a wine decanter. But when the party finally starts, you'll love the added fruitiness of the wine. If you can't bring yourself to wait a day, go with the traditional. If you want a great gift for a self-designated "wine connoisseur," head for the modern version.
What Food Pairs Best With Rioja?
Is there anything better than a wine that pairs well with many foods? We didn't think so. Most often, people pair richer meats with this Rioja, including steak, venison or chili. If you're searching for something a bit lighter, vegetable curries and bleu cheese tend to offer a nice complement to the fruity wine.
What Are the Four Rioja Ratings?
Rioja typically comes in four ratings.
- Rioja: It might not make sense, but Rioja is the least sophisticated of the Rioja wine lineup. These wines have only one to two years of aging, and some don't even depend on oak barrels. Most of these wines are a good lead-in to higher-end Rioja and cost about $9 to $12 a bottle.
- Crianza: To get a Crianza status, a wine must stay in an oak barrel for a minimum of one year (sounds pretty claustrophobic to us). After aging for a year, it spends a few months to a year in a bottle before being sold. This is the most common wine available in the U.S. because of its Rioja flavors and price between $12 to $19.
- Reserva: Reserva is made from only the best grapes in the harvest. Think of it as an all-star selection of grapes, which age for a year in oak and then two years in a bottle. Prices start at $25.
- Gran Reserva: Think of the Gran Reserva as the Hall of Fame of Rioja. It's only made from the best grapes over the best years of harvest, and it isn't made necessarily ever year. It ages for two years in an oak barrel and three years in the bottle before served.