The ‘gran’ in gran reserva could be said to have made Rioja great. It built the image of venerable elegance, of the refined interplay of oak with an autumnal palate of mellow fruitfulness. Despite this, there is a remarkably small proportion of gran reserva produced (see fact box). Rioja is the model of gran reservas. Producers worldwide use the term, but Rioja’s is the most clearly regulated. Red Rioja gran reservas are defined as ‘wines of great vintages that have been painstakingly aged for a total of 60 months [five years] with at least two years in oak barrels [of 225 litres] and two years in bottle’. Note that although the qualification for being a gran reserva is age, the Rioja consejo regulador requires the wine to have been produced in a ‘great vintage’. Nevertheless, this definition does not mean that wines are all similar in style. The ageing requirements, for instance, are a minimum. At the Decanter World Wine Awards 2020 judging we tasted young gran reservas that only just qualified for the category. They were vivid characters, with firm tannins and bright acidity. Talk to the producers of these styles and they explain that they are designed to appeal to a different audience. While being gran reservas, they are intended to bring new consumers in: ones looking for fruit-forward styles.

Wood works

Within the category there are also differences over winemaking. Mature Rioja is regarded as synonymous with the vanilla-and-coconut tones

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