Rioja is one of the well-known wine regions in Spain, divided into 3 sub-regions, Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja, with each region having slightly different climates and producing different styles of wines.
These 3 regions, and other regions in Spain use these designations for certain levels of quality and aging of their wines. I’d like to cover the Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva levels/styles. Wines labeled Crianza must be aged at least two years, one of them in barrel. Reserva wines must be aged for a minimum of three years, one of them in barrel. Gran Reserva wines must be aged at least five years, with two of them spent in barrel. In some cases the wines are left even longer in the barrel before being bottled and sold in your local bottle shop. Riojas can be aged in either French or American oak barrels.
These classes of wines can also be broken down by style: classical vs modern. The Classical style is characterised by longer aging in older barrels, often American oak. They are elegant, structured wines and often have a slight oxidized character. Their fruit tends to be subdued, lean and elegant, an effect of the long oak aging. Modern style Riojas have shorter aging times in newer oak, often in French oak or a mixture of French and American oak. They are fruit driven wines, with support by the oak structure. Though they are fruit driven, they still retain elegance and balanced acidity. Both styles have their place in your cellar.
There are a wide range of Spanish wines at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. Although I don’t have the list of wines and wineries, I am sure that there will be a mix of Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva wines, as well as classical and modern styles. If they are attending, I would say to check out the tables from Bodegas Ysios, Marques de Riscal, Bodegas Muga, Marques de Murrieta, Miquel Merino, Vina Real, Bodegas Baigorri, and Bodegas Martinez Corta.