A statement that was made at a recent Spanish wine tasting that I was hosting invoked in me a sense of panic. Well, more a gentle reminder that just loving wine does not make you an expert on wine. It takes years of hard work, studying, reading…and of course drinking – but professionally.

‘I only drink Rioja, it’s the best in the world’ was the statement that sent a shiver to my liver.

I could not help myself and had to ask back if it was the red, white or the rosé style that they preferred. Was it the Joven, Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reseva age? Also, who was their favourite producer? Also was their preference for the 100% Tempranillo or a blend with an additional wee dash of Garnacha, or even Graciano added in. Or even if they had a specific region within Rioja that was their go to area.

The answer was a very simple ‘the red one from the supermarket’.

Rioja is one of the most fantastic wine producing regions of the world. That is why you will find it all the way from corner shops to specialised wine merchants. Now to answer the questions that my guest could not…Rioja is predominantly a red wine. Almost 80/85% of production is red. However they do also produce some remarkable rosés and whites. For the reds they are allowed to blend in some other grapes. The main grape has to be Tempranillo which gives the concentration and the complexity. The addition of the Garnacha (Grenache) and other allowed local varietals build an extra layer of fruit.

Now the first thing that I look for in a Rioja is a balance of fruit, purity of flavour and subtle notes of oak. And this is where the aging process comes in to its own. The Joven wines are un-oaked. Crianza wines spend 1 year in oak and 1 year in bottle before release. The Reserva wines are 1 year in oak and 2 years in bottle. And Gran Reserva is 2 years oak and 3 years in bottle. The important note to all of this is that just because it is a Gran Reserva does not automatically mean that it is better. Try a few over the weekend and pick a favourite.