‘Inferior’ gran reservas ‘contaminating’ Rioja, producers claim

Prominent producers from Rioja are calling for gran reservas to be better protected against the ‘contamination” of the category by inferior, over-aged wines.

Prominent producers from Rioja are calling for reserva and gran reservas to be better protected against the ‘contamination” of the category by inferior, over-aged wines.

Speaking to db recently, CVNE’s export area manager Carlos Delage argued that while producers at the top end of the market were focusing on quality and terroir to produce their most premium aged wines, other producers were “taking advantage” of the category’s reputation to produce lower quality wines that fulfil only the mere minimum of requirements.

These in turn were “contaminating” the category, he said.

“Given the prestige of Rioja, seeing a reserva or gran reserva at £6 or £8, we don’t know how they are able to producer it at that price point at quality,” he told db.

Cristina Forner, president of Bodegas Marqués de Cáceres said she “firmly believed” that the quality and prestige of aged categories was not determined by “simply establishing minimum periods of ageing” and argued that there needs to be more protection.

She argued that the deflation in wine prices in Spain following the 2007 financial crisis was putting sustainability of the higher levels of quality wine – reservas and gran reservas – at risk.

“Some operators use the same quality of grapes for all wines and find it more beneficial to age the wine for an extra year and sell more reservas than crianzas.

João Machete Peirera, export director of Marqués de Murrieta agreed that there needed to be a extra element of quality built into the category to prevent wines originally intended to be sold as Crianzas being reclassified as reservas and gran reservas once they had reached the minimum ageing requirement.

“A lot of producers are more concerned with big volumes rather than the potential of the appellation,” he said. “But there is a quality perception in the market between a joven and a gran reserve which should be considered within the appellation.”

CVNE ‘s marketing director Maria Urrutia said that Rioja “must have better controls” on the quality of the grapes to match the strict controls on yields, production and ageing requirements that would effectively determine the baseline minimum price for a reserva or gran reserva wine.

She argued that there was not a shortage of reservas or gran reservas in the market, but the price positioning of some wines in the market showed that some people are down-trading.

“Instead of just seeing the categories increasing in volume, we need to look at how it is increasing, who is pushing it in terms of volume,” she said.


For further information, see the February issue of the drinks business. 

5 Responses to “‘Inferior’ gran reservas ‘contaminating’ Rioja, producers claim”

  1. AJ Linn says:

    Which probably explains why many habitual Rioja drinkers, certainly those of us in Spain, have virtually stopped drinking ‘Reservas’ from any but the more reputable bodegas, and now generally prefer Crianzas. Much better value too.

  2. Allen Murphey says:

    As for any wine producing region, there will always be be those producers that will bend the rules to make more money. An unfortunate axiom in any business. The problem becomes obvious with time as more drinkers of Rioja wines begin to identify who is making better, more consistent wines. Those that don’t care about what they are putting in the bottle will suffer the consequences. Having the reputation for making inferior wine spreads rather quickly.

    The wines of Rioja are perhaps the very foundation of what Spanish wine is as a whole. Not unlike what Napa Valley is for American wines, or what Bordeaux is for French wine. When I entered the wine business nearly 40 years ago, these were the first wines I had ever heard of from their respective countries, realizing the quality each represented.. Cream always rises to the top. These problems will sort themselves out; either by peer pressure from within, or by the lack of sales at the cash register.

  3. George Potter says:

    Unfortunately, this is quite true. The Rioja Regulatory Board of Denomination of Origin of Rioja must take serious steps to protect the quality categories of the Rioja wines. There are several other regions where quality wines are produced, and the wineries in these regions are rejoicing at the fact that Rioja quality is under scrutiny, and they will make every effort to fill gaps left by Rioja wineries that do not make the grade.
    What can the Board do?
    – Promote terroir gradings
    – Control grape production
    – Supervise grape qualities
    – Supervise and control elaboration processes, including aging
    Evidently, many wineries will not look favorably on these and other actions aimed at assuring quality over price, but in the long run, some actions must be taken. The Cava D.O. has seen a similar situation and has taken steps to assure quality with two quality categories; Cava Prèmium and Cava de Paratge (single vineyard). The standards that must be met to be recognized
    in these are strict and controlled, and of the 240 some Cava producers it is quite likely that many cannot meet these standards while a few others have no interest whatsoever in even trying to receive approvals. I suppose this is true in numerous other activities.

  4. Terry Lease says:

    Survival may be an issue before the cream has a chance to rise to the top, especially for smaller producers. Among the vast majority of wine drinkers, the reputation of inferior Reserva and Gran Reserva wines from Rioja will spread further and faster than the reputation of specific inferior producers, likely driving many drinkers away from Rioja–and maybe Spanish–wines in general. Some quality producers may not have the financial wherewithal to wait until those wine drinkers come back to Rioja.

  5. Damien says:

    The main problem is that the D.O.C.a Rioja has a system that is focused that the producer that produces the most quantity gets more votes meaning that the D.O.C.a Rioja is always in the hands of the quantity producers and therefor champion there interests which will always be quantity over quality.

    The D.O.C.a Rioja has elections and presidents are elected in apparently democratic votes but at the end of the day the person who has all the power and controls the D.O.C.a Rioja is the General Secretary-Director which has not changed for the last 10-20 years hard to know as it is not published. Until there is a change in the top management and change in the voting system not much is going to change in the alternative D.O.C.a Rioja.

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