As we already know, a wine’s vintage refers to the year of the harvest of the grapes from which it is made. We also know that the vintage is one of the elements that help us to assess the quality of a wine, and that, in the case of the DOCa Rioja, it is the Regulatory Council that is in charge of classifying each vintage under one of five categories: excellent, very good, good, satisfactory and average.
But how does the Regulatory Council classify a vintage? Who has the last word? Today we are going to talk in more depth about the process that leads up to the final vintage declaration, which will give you some idea, once again, of the stringent standards maintained by the DOCa Rioja.
The classification of the wines
It is not easy to be part of the DOCa Rioja; you have to earn the right to bear the region’s name. And in order to demonstrate that the wine meets with all the quality requirements, it has to pass a sort of final exam.
This exam takes place annually and includes two tests:
- The analytical test, which is carried out in the laboratory.
- The sensory assessment, carried out through tastings.
This process is carried out between early December of the year of the vintage and the end of March of the following year.
To start, Regulatory Council technicians collect, from the very tanks that the must fermented in, more than 4,000 samples that represent the total of the wines produced in the DOCa Rioja. They are taken to one of three official laboratories, located in the towns of Haro, Laguardia and Olite.
In these three laboratories, the first tests are carried out: the analytical exam that determines if, the wine was produced correctly within certain parameters. The laboratory technicians determine if values such as total SO2, volatile acidity and reducing sugars fit within the levels demanded by law and the DOCa Rioja (which go a bit beyond the former).
If they pass the first phase, they go on to the second that, as we have indicated, is simply a sensory test – that is to say, a tasting – of the wines. Here, the parameters for evaluation include:
This tasting is fundamental as it is the best way of determining not only the quality of a wine but also its Riojan personality. These tastings are carried out by what are known as Classification Committees: each of them are made up of three tasters: a vine grower – producer, a winery technician and a member of the Association of Oenologists. Each committee is supervised by one of the Regulatory Council’s technicians.
In total, more than a hundred experts play a part in these sensory tests. As you can imagine, it is essential to guarantee independence at all times, therefore the tasting is carried out on an individual basis and prior discussions are strictly prohibited. In this manner, any kind of influence between the tasters is avoided, and they are guided by solely professional criteria.
Whether a wine is awarded the right to be named DOCa Rioja or not depends on their verdict.
The evaluation of the vintage
You can imagine the scale of valuable information that the Regulatory Council has at its disposal on the quality of wines produced in that year, after the aforementioned 4,000 samples have been evaluated.
On this basis, the Council goes on to declare the global vintage classification using all this data.
You may wonder if the procedure is the same in all designations of origin or if this is only the case in La Rioja. Well, the procedure for classifying the vintage is particularly objective in La Rioja compared with other designations of origin, as, where as in other cases they use a sample of barely a dozen representative wines, in La Rioja the sample covers every single winery.
The Regulatory Council’s final verdict refers to all wines produced during that same year, that is to say, young wines, therefore it is necessary to complete the information with the evolution of those that have undergone the ageing process.
So, now you know that the wines that we produce in Bodegas Montecillo have to pass an annual exam to be allowed to claim to belong to the Rioja Designation of Origin. Also that the Rioja Regulatory Council will have studied the quality of 4,000 samples from all the wineries in the DOCa before making a statement as to whether the vintage is excellent, very good, good, satisfactory or average. Did that come as a surprise to you?