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4 min read

Behind the Oak Barrel: Rioja Wine

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A Look at Red Wine from One of Spain’s Top Wine-Producing Regions AdobeStock_55367505.jpeg

Rioja is home to flavorful barrel-aged robust red wines. The local wine makers take great care in selecting their grapes and crafting their wines. The bottles are only released when the wine maker believes they are perfectly prepped for consumption. So how can they tell when their wines are ready? Time, patience and experience all lend a helping hand to the winemaker in his or her decision making process. The wines are usually matured in oak barrels, and the time spent in the barrel directly reflects the quality of the wines.

The main reason Rioja produces such fantastic wine is because there are a number of both red and white grape varietals throughout the region. Rioja’s red grape varietals include Tempranillo, Granache, Graciano and Mazuelo, all of which contribute to the wine’s rich, fruity flavors. The white grape varietals consist of Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca, which give body to the white wines.

Let’s take a closer look at the classification and aging of Rioja wine:


Rioja actually used to be called “vin joven,” which means “young wine.” Rioja has little to no oak aging, which gives it a light, fresh and fruity taste.


Crianza requires at least one year of oak aging, and about one year in the bottle. Crianza is the most accessible classification of Rioja wines and is often aged in used oak, so it has mild oak flavors.


Reserva requires at least two years of oak aging, and at least one year in the bottle. This is the wine of choice for many wine enthusiasts because of its slightly fruity, yet sophisticated flavor that sits in the middle of Crianza and Gran Reserva.

Gran Reserva

Gran Reserva requires a minimum of three years in an oak barrel, and at least two years in the bottle. Most of these wines, however, are aged for as long as possible. Gran Reserva Rioja is ideal for cellars and can be stored for up to 30 years.

Here is a little trick to remember how the Riojas are classified. “2 + 3 = 5”. Crianza is the 2, one year in oak, and up to one year in bottle. Reserva is the 3, two years in oak, and at least one year in bottle. Gran Reserva is 5, three years in oak, and at least two years in the bottle.

One other rule of thumb is the older the wine, typically the pricier the bottle. But the great thing about Rioja is the value. Since the wine makers take such care in releasing their product you are almost guaranteed quality wine, especially when it comes to the Reserva and Gran Reserva categories. Compared to the other known wine regions of the world, the best of Rioja is a bargain.

Here are a few of our favorite Rioja wines for every budget:

$10.99 Cune Crianza

$10.99 Ramon Bilbao Crianza

$17.99 Marques de Caceres Crianza

$20.99 Muga Rioja Reserva

$27.49 Sierra Cantabria Unica Reserva

$29.99 Marques de Caceres Reserva

$31.99 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva

$41.99 Marques de Caceres Gran Reserva

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Founded in 1934, Haskell’s has championed fine wines for over 80 years. With 13 wine stores in Minnesota, two delis and one restaurant.  Haskell’s ships throughout the U.S. and delivers locally. As one of the top wine shops in North America, Haskell’s is known for legendary service and one of the finest collections of wine, beer and spirits. Led by Chairman and CEO Jack Farrell, and the Farrell family, Haskell’s continues to be at the forefront of the wine scene throughout the world.


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