Spanish Wine Terms – Becoming Obselete?



I’m very lucky to have been tasting my way through some spectacular wines recently, all of which have been inspired by my ‘Great Bobal Taste Off’ research which will be the subject of two articles soon.


Some of the wines have been 100% Bobal, the fascinating and flavoursome variety that is indigenous to the Valencia area and as such is widely used in DOs Utiel-Requena and Manchuela as well as making, usually, guest appearances, in DOs Valencia and Alicante.


And some have been wines with Bobal in the blend, but others, whites and Cavas for example, do not have Bobal in their make-up at all.


One of these super wines had the term ‘Crianza’ on the label and the other, from the same stable, the term ‘Reserva’. These labels stood out – why, because they were voices in the wilderness! It made me think, and go back to my articles of this year as well as to my Cave Vinum, my 150 bottle wine cooler.


A quick check revealed quite a startling statistic – of the thirty-seven red wines that I have tasted, or am yet to taste, this year, thirty of them, despite being aged in oak, and often within the legal guidelines for doing so, have not used the above words on their labels. That’s a shocking (but this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing) 80% without these terms and and just 20% that do used these traditional words!


So I put it to you – are the traditional terms that have been used for Spanish Wine for decades, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, increasingly being marginalised – perhaps, ultimately becoming the Dodos of the Spanish wine world? Well it would seem that the answer can only be in the affirmative!


But, does it matter?


Well, it is indicative of a sea change in Spanish wine-making, but essentially, I don’t think it is of any serious concern – as long as we know how to read between the lines of a Spanish wine label, a label that, now, rarely(?) carries the tell-tale message: Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva.


Let’s firstly look at the significance of the trio of words – put simply they refer to styles of wines that have been aged for a certain, minimum, amount of time in oak – Crianza the least amount of time required, Reserva more and Gran Reserva more still.


They aren’t really meant to be terms of quality – for example Gran Reserva being the best, down to Crianza. However, because of the choice of vineyards, vines and even grapes used, this can often be the case. The best sited vineyard and the best (often, oldest) vines within that vineyard are used for the Gran Reserva wines, etc.


Cork Talk readers will know that there is also the term ‘Joven’ to consider, though this is not within my remit here as such wines are usually unoaked. Plus there are wines that have been aged for less time than the minimum Crianza requirement. Such wines are often referred to as ‘sem’-crianza’ wines or they simply have the word ‘Roble’ (Spanish for oak) written on their labels.


Again these wines have been disregarded because, as yet at least, there is no legal requirement as to how long such wines should have been in oak in order for them to use these words – I’m delighted to say! Why tie the hands of the wine-maker with typical European red tape?


However, this gamut of wine does lead me onto the next point, that of alternative terms to replace the threatened three.


The advantage with the three terms is that it gives the consumer an idea of the likely style of the wine in the bottle. We know that it has had a minimum amount of time in oak, according to the term used – but this doesn’t, of course, tell the whole story.


For example the Spain-wide law is that Crianzas have to have had a minimum of six months in oak, plus time in bottle before their release onto the market. However in La Rioja (and some other areas) for their own reasons, and still keeping within the law, they have a rule of their own where their Crianzas in fact have to have had a minimum of 12 months in barrel.


We can now look for terms such as: Vino d’Autor; Selección Especial; Fermented and Aged in Oak; as well as Cosecha which traditionally has been used for joven wines, but really indicates just the year of production, some wines dubbed Cosecha have also been aged in oak; and Vino de la Mesa, which can mean all manner of things, but here the clue will be the price – the more expensive, the more likely it will have had oak ageing!


So, why the change in direction? Why drop the apparently outmoded triumvirate? In truth I don’t know – but I can make an educated guess. A new generation of wine-makers in Spain is responding to market trends as well as to their own passions!


Indeed, one of the wines in the Great Bobal Taste Off, referred to above, is called Pasión. There’s no mention of Crianza etc on the label, just a brief descriptor which does include a reference to oak, but like all these new-age wines, it’s the wine that does the talking, and I commend them to you!


Contact Colin: and through and Twitter @colinonwine

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