“Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.” Joan Collins. When shopping for wine, we realise that it is not so simple to choose. There are so many classifications, so many varieties and types, that it seems that we should enrol on a course before deciding. Despair not! Today we are going to focus on one of the many ways of classifying a wine: according to its aging period.
Before starting, it is worth clarifying that this is a general classification, and that it can be modified according to the regulations of each region.
What is aging?
The aging of a wine refers to the time that passes from fermentation up until the time of sale; and to the modification of its organoleptic properties during that period. The process by which these properties are modified is called aging, and its objective is to give the wine the desired taste and aromatic qualities.
Aging consists of two parts: the oxidative phase, in wooden barrels, and the reductive phase, once in the bottles. In the first, the wood allows the wine to be in contact with a reduced level of oxygen. Obviously, the barrels (usually oak) provide woody aromatic tones, but, in addition, this aging helps to reduce the astringency of the wine, making it more delicate. On the other hand, during the reductive phase, there is no oxygenation, so the wine’s own components interact and stabilise, leading to a more balanced final product.
Finally, we must add that aging is not the same for all wines. Some of the variables that will influence the aging period will be the variety considered (in general, white and rosé wines are aged for less time than red wines), laws of each denomination of origin, region, etc.
What are the types of wines according to their aging period?
Young Wines: Wines that are marketed and consumed within a year of production. They do not go through the aging process, but are bottled immediately after production. They are fruity wines without woody components; and in which the grape’s unique elements are clearly distinguishable, both in aroma and on the palate. Lo Petitó, from Celler Pascona, is a clear example of a young wine.
Semicrianza or Oak wines: This category is not always recognised, although lately it has gained popularity among Spanish wineries. It can be said that it is a middle ground between young and crianza wines. Semicrianza wines are those that spend a brief period of time in oak barrels before going on sale, but without reaching the necessary time to be considered crianzas. They do not achieve the balance characteristic of crianzas, but neither do they have the raw characteristics of a young wine. They are fruity but with an elegant touch contributed by the wood. As examples, the MOFO-The Wild Child, spends 8 months in oak barrels; and the Més Que Paraules Negre, between 10 and 12.
The ability to add value to a young wine without the need to invest as much time as in a crianza wine means that more and more wineries are considering producing wines of this category.
Crianza Wines: Wines that age for at least two years, spending at least six months in oak barrels. In the case of white or rosé wines, the minimum aging time is a year and a half. This means that they are wines that will be released to the market two or three years after production. They stand out for having a greater balance than young wines, offsetting their fruity components against woody ones.
It is worth highlighting that for the Ribera del Duero and Rioja D.O.s, crianza wines must spend more time in oak barrels, 12 months as a minimum. For example, our Somanilla Crianza from Bodegas Hercal (in Ribera del Duero) spends 16 months in oak barrels.
Reserva Wines: These wines are available to the consumer between 3 and 4 years after their production. In the case of red wines, they have an aging period of 3 years, with at least one of them in oak barrels. White wines and rosés age for 2 years, and their minimum time in wooden barrels is 6 months. These wines have even more pronounced toasty and wooden notes than crianzas, since the aromatic and taste components are enhanced over time. They are also fine and complex wines, which express themselves with elegance and delicacy on the palate and in the nose.
Gran Reserva Wines: This is the highest classification category. Gran Reserva wines are made using high-quality production, when the harvests are very favourable. This is because they are wines in which a great amount of time is invested; since they will be sold 6 years after elaboration. Red wines are aged for 5 years, with one and a half in wooden barrels. The white and rosé varieties age for 4 years, with a minimum of 6 months in barrels. These wines are valued highly and have a strong presence of wood in their constitution. They are aromatic and with prolonged sensations; with good structure and velvety, having completely lost the astringency that is characteristic of younger ones.
Choosing a wine is always a special task, and finding the perfect bottle should not be an ordeal or burden us with concerns. The moment of buying a good wine should be exciting, or, at least, a pleasant experience that makes your day more interesting. With this article, we hope to get you a little closer to that situation, making your future purchases more enjoyable and relaxed.