Rioja, Spain

  • Wednesday, Day 27/01/2021
  • Named after the river Oja, this district is in the north of Spain astride the Rio Ebro. It is divided into three districts in perceived order of quality: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Red, white and rosé wines are produced. The principal grape for Red Rioja is Tempranillo, with Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan) grapes, and the next most important are Maturana Tinta, Maturana Parda, Monastrell and Cabernet Sauvignon.

    The Cantabrian Mountains, which flank Rioja to the north and west, provide shelter from cold, wet influences of the Atlantic Ocean. This is a significant factor in the local climate, which is significantly warmer and drier than that just to the north. The region's soils vary from place to place, with the finest containing high levels of limestone.

    • Rioja Alta is the western portion of Rioja. As the name suggests the vineyards are sited at higher altitudes than what was formerly Rioja Baja. Soils have more clay, iron and alluvial elements and less limestone than neighboring Alavesa. The wines tend to be regarded as elegant with balanced acidity.
    • Rioja Alavesa consists of two separate enclaves of land adjoining Rioja Alta. Though they both lie within the Rioja DOCa zone, they are not within La Rioja, but instead the Basque province of Alava. Vineyards are sited at similar altitudes to Rioja Alta, and the macroclimate is similar. Soils tend to have more limestone than in Rioja Alta, and the wines can show more acidity.
    • Rioja Oriental (formerly Rioja Baja) is the eastern section of the Rioja zone. The climate here is much more heavily influenced by the Mediterranean. Dryer and warmer than the other two regions, there is more emphasis on Garnacha here. Wines can be markedly fuller in body than those from the other subregions. Most of the region lies south of the Ebro within La Rioja. However, in the Oriental zone, Rioja DOCa vineyards north of the river actually fall within the political boundaries of Navarra.

    Rioja was the very first Spanish region to be awarded DO status, back in 1933. In 1991, it became the first to be upgraded to the top-level DOCa The region's winemaking history stretches back to Roman times and has continued almost unbroken ever since. Production flourished between 200 BC and the 6th Century AD. This is shown by wine-related archaeological finds such as amphorae. The practice slowed during the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula from the invasion of 711 AD until the late Middle Ages.

    The red wines may be of outstanding quality. They are matured in oak casks in the same way as claret, taking on oaky bouquet and flavor. American oak barrels were used extensively in the past and are still used widely, but now there is often a mixture of other oaks being used. The principal grape for White Rioja is Viura (Macabéo). Garnacha Blanca, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo are also permiited but must not exceed 50% of the blend. White Rioja wines may be dry or medium sweet. The old style was heavily oak but the newer style Riojas are much fresher

    Riojas are bound by the same aging minimums as other Spanish wines with a few difference.

    Designation

    Red Wines

    White and Rosé Wines

    Minimum total aging (months)

    Minimum time spent in barrel (months)

    Minimum total aging (months)

    Minimum time spent in barrel (months)

    Joven

    0

    0

    0

    0

    Crianza

    24

    12

    12

    6

    Reserva

    36

    12

    36

    6

    Gran Reserva

    60

    24

    48

    6