Rioja Spain Wine and Regon

Herederos del Marqués de Riscal, Reserva Rioja 2011

67 Wines, $16.99

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Rioja Red Blend is a term used to describe the combination of red-wine varieties used in the red wines of Rioja. Spain's Tempranillo forms the base of the blend for the majority of the wines in this category, with Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano making up the balance. At least one producer (Marques de Riscal) has special dispensation to include Cabernet Sauvignon in its wines, although this practice is uncommon.

Grown extensively in Rioja Baja, Garnacha adds body and additional raspberry flavors, often with a spicy accent. Mazuelo is generally regarded as a lesser grape in the blend, and like the Carignans of the Rhone is typically relied upon to add color alone. A notoriously difficult grape to cultivate, Graciano is highly valued and brings perfume and structure to wine, even in small doses.

Red Rioja Blends carry various designations to indicate how long they have been aged. There is a certain degree of flexibility within the aging categories, but they do serve as a reliable indication of how the wine is likely to taste. Each category stipulates the minimum period the wine must spend in oak, combined with an overall aging period that may be barrel, or bottle, maturation. For example, the popular Crianza category requires at least 12 months in oak with a minimum overall aging period of two years. In this example, the final 12 months could be spent in either bottle or barrel, or a combination of the two.

The first two aging categories, Joven and Roble, are fresh wines best consumed in their youth. Joven ("young") wines are unoaked, or spend a minimal amount of time in oak, while Roble ("oak") wines have been aged in oak, but for less than 12 months. Crianza and Reserva wines are more structured and must spend a minimum of 12 months in oak, and have an overall age of two and three years respectively.

The final category, Gran Reserva, encompasses the elder statesmen of Rioja wines. They spend at least two years in oak and five years aging overall, which makes them very costly commercial endeavors. These wines can be of immense depth and concentration, requiring many years in the cellar before reaching their peak drinking window.

New American oak barrels were the standard in Rioja for the greater part of the 20th Century. More recent trends have seen an increase in the use of French oak, and there are some producers who favor a combination of the two.

The Red Rioja Blend is occasionally found in California and South Australia, though it is much more common to find the simpler Garnacha – Tempranillo blends outside Spain. The Rioja Blend can also be used in the production of rosé.

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