One of the traits that sets Rioja Wines apart is their excellent aptitude for ageing, a quality that is exclusive to great wines. Through appropriate ageing,. in which oak wood plays a decisive role, Rioja Wine evolves, its virtues becoming more prominent and acquiring new aromas and flavours. Rioja Wines are aged in 225 litre oak casks, where the wine experiences a slow evolutionary process of micro-oxygenation and stabilisation, and eventually acquires aromas and flavours released by the tannins in the wood. This is the traditional ageing method of great wines, a natural, more costly process than modern proposals of a more "industrial" oenology. The ageing process is completed in the bottle, where the wine continues to evolve in a reducing atmosphere until it reaches its peak. Great wines from historic vintages sleep in bottles for decades in the "sacristies" of the bodegas until they are transformed into true oenological gems.
Depending on the ageing process, Rioja wine can be put into one of four categories, identified by different numbered back labels or seals, which the Control Board issues to those wines that meet quality and tipicity requirements:
The four models of numbered back labels or seals that should accompany every bottle of Rioja wine that is sold constitute a document that guarantees the ageing category as well as the origin, vintage and quality of the wine. The characteristics of each vintage determine the amount of wine that winemakers will assign to each ageing category -Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.
Rioja wines are elegant, original and have the unmistakable character of great wines, something which is only possible when grape varieties, vine-growing methods and winemaking procedures have been honed over time. Given the diversity in winegrowing offered by the Designation, it has been a traditional practice by the bodegas to blend different grape varieties and wines, from different vineyards and towns, seeking the complementary elements which will intensify their respective properties in the end product. This is undoubtedly the best-known kind of Rioja, although bodegas are increasingly offering a rich variety of styles with wines of high fruit concentration which aim to express the traits of specific vineyards.
With Tempranillo as the main element, Rioja reds are characterised by being very balanced in their alcohol content, colour and acidity, by having a body and structure offset perfectly by a gentle and elegant flavour and by being mainly fruity in nature when young and more velvety when aged. These characteristics make Rioja Wines highly versatile when combining with the most varied foods. This, together with the fact that it is a user-friendly, easy-to-drink wine, constitutes one of the keys to its success.
From October 2008, the new guarantee labels will gradually replace the current ones in the new vintages that reach each of the ageing categories.