Tunante Rioja Joven 2011

Rioja, in its commoner red form, is a pretty well-known wine - even by
Posted 17th October 2012        

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Rioja, in its commoner red form, is a pretty well-known wine – even by the the standards of those who profess no specialist knowledge of red wine.

But when most people drink Rioja, they won’t be drinking “Joven” – or “young” – Rioja. I don’t know for sure why it’s the case, but most Rioja wines you see in supermarkets – whether bedecked in gold wire, sacking, or neither – are of the “Crianza”, “Reserva” or “Gran Reserva” variety.

Whatever they are, they’re probably made up mainly of the Tempranillo grape, and they’re probably medium-to-full bodied with plenty of dark red fruit flavours. The price can be an indication of the style; indeed the further down the list you go, the pricier the wines usually are:

    1. Joven = £
    2. Crianza = ££
    3. Reserva = £££
    4. Gran Reserva = £££££

But this isn’t because they are necessarily better; it just means they’ve spent longer in oak barrels; and that barrel space (and that cellar space) doesn’t pay for itself, you know. I always assumed that “Reserva” meant better. It seems a perfectly reasonable assumption, and for anyone without the inclination to consult Wikipedia (or, indeed, every time they buy a bottle of wine, it’s probably what they’ll assume. But really the ideal Rioja style is more to do with your reaction to the woody elements that barrel-time imparts on the wine.

It’s fair to say – I say it’s “fair” because I’m saying it – that most people who choose to buy Rioja wines are probably after something a little more robust in flavour: something that’s approaching full-bodied, but won’t necessarily knock their socks off.

This Tunante Joven Rioja has (as you can see by the date) only spent a short while in the barrel, so its fruit flavours were strong and ripe: bursting through the heady aroma were plums, black cherries, elderberries and more. The wine was relatively un-tannic (so little puckering of the gums was endured), but I personally miss the vanilla and spice characters that can be imparted by barrel-ageing.

Admittedly it still felt like a Rioja red. And I’m pretty sure I’ve drunk Joven before without knowing it. (Joven wines are just as often marked simply as “Rioja” with no qualifier.) But going into the bottle thinking about how young it was and expecting a certain style no doubt readied my mind (and mouth) for a particular experience. An experience I, unfortunately, don’t really treasure quite as much as I do the near-overpowering smack of a decade-old Gran Reserva: where you feel like you’re in that barrel, being rolled down a hill and eventually crash-landing in a vat of fruit. Yum-yum.

This was more like drinking a modern, subtle, refined, fruit-driven wine. Perfectly nice and indeed quite likely to be a more rewarding drinking experience, if your tastes are more toward medium-bodied than full-.

One of the most controversial articles yet published on was a review of a popular Crianza Rioja, in which the author, Adam, suggested the wine relied far too much on oak for its taste. People were outraged! But Rioja winemakers, I seem to recall reading, are trying to move away from this oak-focused style of red to a more “refined” style that they think will impress the critics. Whether or not the common wine-drinking supermarket-going folk such as myself (and some of the more outspoken defenders of Campo Viejo) will get on board remains in doubt.

Perhaps the word “Joven” will become a commoner sight in supermarkets in the coming years? The expense for winemaker and consumer would be cut, possibly. And if the international palate is truly moving toward subtler, more fruit-driven wines – as marketers seem to think it will – then it’ll be what football managers and other such folk might call a “win-win” situation.

For me it smacks of the emperor’s new clothes, and I’m put in mind of the “Schtopp! Schtopp!Grolsch-advert man.

Just leave it in the barrel a few more years, yeah? I’ll chuck you an extra couple of quid.

I have no idea where you can buy this wine. It’ll be either Morrisons or Tesco – possibly both. Ask my wife.

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Meet the Author:
Alexander Velky
Alexander grew up on Anglesey, almost as far away from civilization as he’d have liked. He studied English at university and subsequently moved to Prague to teach it to Czech people for just long enough that he could say he’d done that. He then returned to the UK to do an MA in Professional Writing, and later moved to London by accident and worked in the music industry for a while. His interest in wine has been developing throughout. He took the WSET Intermediate exam, for which he was rewarded with a certificate and a pin badge, but he probably won't bother doing any more. He now lives in Pembrokeshire with his wife and daughter. He writes, and drinks, for a living. You can follow him on Twitter if that's how you choose to spend your time. Photograph by Léonie Keeble