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

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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

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