Rioja is one of the few regions left that still ages its wines for many years before releasing them to the public. It is not uncommon to see wines from the late 1990s on the shelves at local retailers, and even crianzas, which require less aging, are still stuck in the aughts.
Jovens must follow the same rules as the rest of the region and use only permitted grapes — tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, mazuelo (carignan), the very rare maturana and, with special permission, cabernet sauvignon. Also, the wines must come from one of the three subzones — alta, alavesa or baja.
Joven literally means “young” in Spanish. As such, the wines are aged for a few months in stainless steel or oak. Often, oak-aged wines will say “roble” on the label.
Since there is a range in joven styles, it is hard to make a broad generalization. But as a rule, they are light and fruity and can have some spice. These three are the top finds in the Bay Area:
Hermanos Peciña Rioja Cosecha, 2010: For a winery that is only 20 years old — ‘joven’ by Rioja’s standards — Hermanos Peciña has risen to the highest ranks in the region . Peciña practices organic viticulture (though it is not officially certified), uses indigenous yeasts and the barrels are racked by gravity — an expensive and rare method of vinification. Bright with blackberries, a pinch of pepper, licorice and a long, semitannic finish, this wine has a lot of style. Available at Arlequin Wine Merchant, Beltramo’s, K&L Wine Merchants and The Spanish Table. Suggested retail: $14
Beronia Rioja Tempranillo, 2008: Beronia was founded in 1973 by a group of foodies from Madrid. Nine years later, González Byass, a sherry producer turned wine conglomerate, bought it. Spending nine months in American oak sets it apart. Medium-bodied with a silky mouthfeel and plum, vanilla and herbal overtones, it has crianza characteristics with the freshness of a joven. Available at K&L Wine Merchants and Solano Cellars.
Suggested retail: $14
Bodegas y Vinedos NOE Rioja Joven, 2010: Bodegas y Vinedos NOE came into being in 2004, but Noe Reinares Fernandez’s family has been growing grapes for seven decades. He makes his wine in a very small cottage, using organic compost. Floral with fresh rose petals, soft cherry fruit and just a touch of barnyard funk, this joven has more complexity than the vast majority out there. Available at the Wine Club. Suggested retail: $15
Pamela Busch was the founding partner of Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bars, and is a wine educator and writer.