Recently Jancis Robinson said in her newsletter that “all change in Rioja”. I could not agree more.
She was talking about a big wine tasting that one of her collaborators, the ex-El Bulli sommelier Ferran Centelles, had done of an extensive range of Riojas. His conclusion was that Rioja of today is not like it was before. “The great majority of the most exciting reds being made in Spain’s most famous wine region today eschew the old categories Reserva and Gran Reserva and are sold instead within the more liberal Cosecha category.”
When I was in Rioja some while back my impression was the same. The “old style” rioja, with plenty of oak vanilla and lots of time spent in barrel, did not quite shine with its absence. There were a few of those around. But it seemed as if a lot of winemakers rather put their attention on the fruit and terroir expression than on long time in oak.
Regulations dictate that gran reserva has to stay for quite some time in oak so many of the most ambitious wines were not gran reservas. Some were reservas, others crianzas, some nothing at all (or cosechas, simply with a vintage). It was striking how much experimentation there was all round.
A wine region cannot and should not completely reinvent itself over night. Tradition is important and customer expectations too. At the same time a wine region also have to look forward. A few years back it seemed like Rioja was a bit too much stuck in the old vanilla and oak style. Not any more!
It will be very interesting to go back there in September for our upcoming wine tour to Rioja. I expect to find many more new discoveries!
Keep tuned and come back for an update.