What is the difference between the Spanish term "gran reserva" and "aging"?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have been a wine lover for many years. I understand the concept of crianza, reserva and gran reserva for Spanish wines. In the New World, I think the concept is ambiguous. When anyone asks me the difference between “gran reserva” and “aging,” I have trouble giving an answer. Can you please help?

—Julio Osorio, Monterrey, Mexico

Dear Julio,

Many producers of wines all over the world age their wines before selling them, either in barrels or after bottling, or both. But some regions of the world have defined and regulated the practice, such as the examples you mention in Spain.

Using Rioja as an example (the required length of aging may vary slightly in other Spanish appellations), a red wine labeled as “crianza” has been aged for at least two years, with at least one of those years in oak barrels before release. A “reserva” has been aged at least three years, with at least one of those in barrel. “Gran reserva” means that it was aged at least five years, with a minimum of two years in oak. In addition, gran reserva wines are typically made in only outstanding vintages. White wines also carry these terms, but are aged for shorter periods, with a minimum of six months in oak.

Knowing details like this about wines from Spain (and other countries’ classifications systems) will help you identify the style you prefer. But you’re correct that most regions—especially those in the New World—do not try to define these winemaking styles. Winemakers are free to make wines any way they want, tweaking their approach as they wish for each wine, in each vintage. So the concept of aging a wine for a year or two or more is not necessarily ambiguous, it’s just not always given a name or classification.

—Dr. Vinny

Spain Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

Once chilled, must a wine stay chilled? Is it ruined if it warms up again?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny debunks the myth that wine shouldn't be chilled and then …

Jun 27, 2022

Does Pinot Noir come in both red and white versions? Are they the same grape?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how red wines get their color. (Hint: It's not …

Jun 22, 2022

If you're supposed to hold a wineglass by the stem, why are stemless glasses so popular?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains the pros and cons of stemless …

Jun 13, 2022

How much do our taste buds influence our perception of wine?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains how taste sensitivity impacts our …

Jun 6, 2022

What's the shelf life of a box of wine?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert, Dr. Vinny, explains why box wines aren't meant to …

May 31, 2022

Should I refill my own wineglass, or ask the host or server to?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the etiquette or wine service, for hosts and for …

May 23, 2022