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Rioja, One of the Most Important Wine Regions in Spain

Rioja is Spain's oldest and noblest vineyard. Home to the Tempranillo grape, the production of red wines is predominant, but white wines deserve just as much attention. Discover the finesse of Rioja wines, from Crianza to Gran Reserva.

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Rioja vineyard

Credit © DOCa Rioja

THE Rioja VINEYARD


Rioja is one of the world's greatest wine-growing regions. Located in the province of the same name, the appellation area extends into neighbouring Navarra and the Basque Country. In the north-west, on the north bank of the River Ebro, Rioja Alavesa is the coolest part of the region. Rioja Alta faces it on the right bank of the river, to the west of the town of Logroño. Rioja Oriental, formerly known as Rioja Baja, to the east, is the largest and warmest part of the appellation.

Rioja vineyard

Credit © DOCa Rioja

The valley is bounded by mountains to the north and south, two natural barriers between which the Ebro flows: the Sierra de Cantabria to the north and the Sierra de la Demanda and Sierra de los Cameros to the south. This is an important geological detail, as the mountains of the Sierra de Cantabria isolate the vineyards, protecting them from the bad weather that would otherwise descend from the north and the Atlantic. As a result, the vines can bask in the sunshine while the clouds gather in the distance on the peaks. To protect the vines, winegrowers have adopted a high planting density and goblet pruning.

DOCa, Denominacion de Origen Calificada, is the Spanish equivalent of AOC, Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. Rioja DOCa has existed since 1925 and obtained Calificada status in 1991: it is the oldest in the country. A total of 14 grape varieties are authorised in the specifications. Most of the production is red wines, but a small percentage is devoted to rosé and white wine.

Rioja vineyard

Credit © DOCa Rioja

THE LAND OF Tempranillo


In the land of Rioja, Tempranillo is king. It is one of the region's traditional grape varieties. Tempranillo ripens early, even two weeks before the other grape varieties of Rioja. It offers a wide range of wine styles:

  • fresh, juicy young wines produced by semi-carbonic maceration.
  • more complex and ageworthy wines aged in American or French oak barrels. This gives the wines their distinctive vanilla or coconut flavour.

Tempranillo produces different style in different terroirs. At higher altitudes ripening takes longer because of the cooler climate. This means that the tannins develop for longer and therefore become riper and softer. Wines from Rioja Alta and Alavesa have higher acidity and more pronounced tannins than those from Rioja Oriental. The oceanic and Mediterranean climates of Rioja Alta and Alavesa, in turn, produce even finer wines. Wines with a little more structure and freshness can therefore be distinguished according to the area in which they are grown. Tempranillo may be vinified as a single grape variety or blended with Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano. Garnacha adds alcohol and structure and enhances the red fruit aromas. Mazuelo and Graciano provide dark colour, acidity and tannins. Together they make more powerful wines. With its red fruit aromas reminiscent of red plum, raspberry and strawberry, Tempranillo offers a complex organoleptic expression to the wine.

Tempranillo

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Viura/MacabeO

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Rioja wine

Credit © DOCa Rioja

5 AUTHORISED BLACK GRAPE VARIETIES


Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha, Mazuelo (Carignan) and Maturana Tinta.


9 AUTHORISED WHITE GRAPE VARIETIES


Viura (Macabeo), Maturana Blanca, Garnacha Blanca, TurruntĂ©s, Verdejo, Chardonnay, Tempranillo Blanco, MalvasĂ­a and Sauvignon Blanc.

Rioja vineyard

Credit © DOCa Rioja

RED AND WHITE WINE catEgories:


  • Joven/Cosecha: These are wines from the last harvest that have not been barrel-aged. On tasting, they are fresh, fruity and juicy.
  • Crianza: The red wines are aged two years from which a minimum one year in barrel. The white wines are aged for a minimum of six months in barrels. This oak ageing gives them a woody flavour with a characteristic vanilla aroma. The freshness of their youth is balanced by a slightly toasted touch for added complexity.
  • Reserva: The red wines are aged for at least three years (minimum one year in oak barrels and six months in bottle). The white wines are aged for at least two years with six months in barrel. These wines reveal more complex aromas of  tobacco, leather and truffle.
  • Gran Reserva: These are the finest wines from the region. The red wines are aged for at least five years with a minimum of two years in oak barrels and two years in the bottle. The white wines are aged for at least four years with a minimum six months in barrel. These are undeniably top-quality, elegant and complex wines. These are often exceptional vintages.

Spanish wine

RED RIOJA TASTING NOTES


Appearance: The colour is pale ruby and copper for the Gran Reserva, with all shades of red and violet for the other styles.

Nose: The shorter the ageing period, the more intense the fruity notes, with a wide range of red and black fruits, floral notes (violet), aromatic plants and spices. Gran Reserva wines offer characteristic nuances of leather, tobacco, orange peel or jam.

Palate: Wines from Rioja Alta and Alavesa have stronger acidity and more pronounced tannins than those from Rioja Oriental. Joven wines are lively and fruity. Crianza wines show balance and harmony between fruit and woody notes. Gran Rerserva wines are remarkable for their complexity, elegance and silky tannins.

Ageing potential: 1 to 2 years (Joven), 2 to 10 years (Crianza), 3 to 20 years (Reserva), 5 to 30 years (Gran Reserva).

Service temperature: 16°C

Food and wine pairing: Red meat dishes (poultry, game)

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Rioja white wine

WHITE RIOJA TASTING NOTES


Rioja white wines are mainly produced from Viura grape variety, also known as Macabeo. This is a grape variety with very high acidity, giving the wines great freshness. It is harvested after a long ripening period. Like the red Rioja, the white wines are traditionally aged in oak barrels, giving them their characteristic golden colour. However, more modern winemaking techniques mean that stainless steel vats can be used to produce finer wines.

Appearance: The ageing in oak barrels gives them a very intense golden colour.

Nose: Fresh fruit, such as pear and apple aromas together with toasted and vanilla notes.

Palate: The time spent in barrel gives them a rounder, woodier structure on the palate, with a rich, smooth texture. The intentionally oxidative character gives aromas of nuts and almonds. The acidity maintains the balance in the face of long years of ageing. Wines that have been aged in stainless steel vats are fresher, with a less rounded expression.

Service temperature: Between 7 and 10°C.

Ageing potential: From 1 to 5 years.

Food and wine pairing: Seafood, chipirones (fried squid), aioli, poultry (duck breast, guinea fowl in creamy sauce).

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