A lot of wine is never aged. It is made, bottled and drunk. End of.
But for a fair few wines, the aging process is what makes the wine. Today’s letter is:
R for Reserva.
Wine can be aged in a few different ways, but the main two methods are in oak barrels before release or in bottle post-release.
In Spain these aging requirements are actually written into the laws of the region, for example:
Joven (young) generally means the wine won’t have seen oak. Through to Gran Reserva which means the wine will have seen a whopping 2 years in oak and 3 years in bottle before release. And many producers in Rioja will often exceed these minimums!
So what happens to a wine when it ages? Well it depends on the aging vessel. A brand new oak barrel is likely to add flavours of vanilla, toast, smoke and spice. An older oak barrel will give flavours of coffee, caramel and chocolate.
If your wine has been aged for a substantial amount of time in a bottle, then the wine has zero contact with oxygen. In this case the flavours that develop are a little more unique. Think of when you go for a walk in the forest (earth, mushroom, wet leaves), or you walk through a farmyard…
In fact, wine expert Anthony Hanson infamously said “Great Burgundy smells of shit”. Yes, literally.