The region comprises three zones with their own winegrowing characteristics: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa et Rioja Oriental (formerly known as Rioja Baja). Located in the north of Spain, in the province of the same name, La Rioja is a wine-growing region. Originally, Rioja referred to the basin formed by a small river, the Oja, which flows into the Tirón near Haro. Rioja became the name of a much wider part of the river valley, bounded by mountains to the north and south. This is an important geological detail, since 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. The DOCa Rioja, the Spanish equivalent of the A.O.C. (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), has existed since 1925 and obtained Denominacion de Origen Calificada status in 1991: it is the oldest in the country. The appellation area extends into neighbouring Navarre and the Basque Country. In the north-west, on the north bank of the Ebro, La Rioja Alavesa (or Basque) is the coolest part of La Rioja. Rioja Alta faces it on the right bank of the river, to the west of the town of Logroño. Rioja Baja, to the east, is the largest and warmest part of the appellation. Rioja reds and whites are produced here, but these are the finest red wines in the region.
What do the three Rioja subregions have in common?
- Tempranillo grape variety
- An exceptional climate with oceanic and Mediterranean influences
- Ageing in the wooden barrels
Grape varieties and ageing of Rioja
The years of modernisation coincided with the award of the DOCa in 1991, thanks in no small part to the high standards of quality and the excellent skills of the wine professionals. In the past, over forty grape varieties were grown here, but the DOCa allows only seven. Tempranillo, which accounts for almost 70% of the vineyards, gives Rioja reds their delicious strawberry flavour and is well suited to prolonged ageing. Tempranillo is the dominant grape variety, with Garnacha added to flesh out the blend. To protect the vines, the winemakers have adopted a dense planting method and goblet pruning. While this pruning is a reminder that we are in the vineyards of La Rioja, the coopers are rivalling the winegrowers in their use of American oak: few wine-producing regions use so much of this tree to make 22.5-litre barrels or "barricas". The contact of the wood with the wine gives it aromas of butter and vanilla. Unlike Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, Rioja Joven (or Cosecha) has not undergone barrel ageing, nor have some of the fresh white Rioja wines. Whatever the colour, Rioja wines can be enjoyed with the privilege of tasting the prestige of a thousand years of know-how, because on this exceptional terroir, people have been devoting themselves to winegrowing for over two thousand years!