Enjoy getting to know the Spanish custom of aging its wines

Updated 11/13/2019 11:44 AM

It takes patience, along with something else that's in short supply these days, to gently ease a red wine into maturity and that's adequate storage.

No one in my acquaintance has a storage locker, much less a cellar, combining the low light, gentle humidity, and steady, cool temperature to coax complexity from your favored bottles. Wine storage systems are pricey, generally reserved for "occasion" wines. So, most winegrowers have responded with a flood of fruity, low-acid wines for immediate gratification (along with immediate sales and profit), with nuance enough to mature in your car on the way home from the wine shop.


Not Spain. In just one of her unique wine customs, Spain delays the sale of wine, allowing time to mature in vast cellars and arrive at your table with optimum flavor and texture just in time for dinner.

Look for labeling terms below to choose between a friendly drink for tailgating or a statuesque beauty for your finest steak. Requirements vary slightly throughout Spain; these definitions apply to the red wines of the Rioja region:

Rioja (pronounced ree-OH-hah): Young, vintage-dated wine; generally based on Spain's noble grape, Tempranillo, priced about $10.

Faustino VII, Tempranillo is a soft, easy quaff with bright cherry flavor accented with brown spice and herbs, the result of six months rest in American oak barrels. Serve for cocktails & casual meals. This delicious value is also great for sangria, mulled wine or wine-based recipes.

Crianza (cree-AHN-thah): A minimum of one year in barrel, followed by bottle aging, with total aging of 24 months. Generally, under $15, Crianza provides easy complexity at an accessible price. Serve as a lavish cocktail and complement to grilled veggies and seafood, poultry, and meats, including savory, ethnic dishes such as Korean barbecue. Favorites include:

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CVNE (pronounced KOO-nay) Crianza: Rich in flavor, but uplifted on the palate, with sappy, ripe berry flavors accented with brown spice, green tobacco, and long, pleasingly firm finish.

LAN Crianza: Tightly-woven flavors of plum, berry and mocha, with animal and earth accents, a playful smack of alcohol and firm finish. I add one ice cube to relax the wine's intensity.

Reserva: A minimum of twelve months in barrel with total maturation of at least thirty-six months. (Note the difference in spelling from Italian Riserva.) Priced under-$20, this is where I put my money for affordable complexity. When traditionally aged in American oak, Reserva expresses herbal qualities, excellent to pair with meats and rich poultry prepared with green herbs, especially lamb and pork.

Ramon Bilbao Reserva: Cashmere texture -- supple, warm and enduring -- beautifully integrated into flavors of licorice, black pepper, red fruit, young tobacco and wild herbs. Aged twenty months in American oak and twenty months in bottle. While I enjoyed the dynamism of the current 2014 vintage, the producer suggests even more potential with additional maturation.

Gran Reserva: Winemakers select their finest grapes for Gran Reserva, often aging wines beyond the required two years in barrel and three in the bottle. Generally priced under-$50, Gran Reserva can offer seductive complexity. It also delivers a silky texture -- however, caveat emptor. With advanced age, the wines are vulnerable to less-than-pristine shipping and retail storage. Purchase from a trusted merchant or at the winery only.

Join me to explore Spain's unique wine traditions, as well as her profound impact on American winegrowing -- including Argentina, Chile and California. Join me from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, for "The Wine Lands of Spain" at The Chopping Block/ Lincoln Square at 4747 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago. This seated seminar includes a tasting of six classic Spanish wines and complimentary noshes. Seating limited; registration required. Visit The Chopping Block's View Our Calendars at https://www.thechoppingblock.com/classes.

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