La Rioja: an emblematic wine region



la rioja wine map spain


In the north of Spain, at the central Ebro valley, about 50 km south of Pamplona, extending to 120 km long and 40 km wide,  there is undoubtedly the most famous wine-growing region of Spain: La Rioja. On this broad area, the vineyards of the appellation Rioja on both sides of the river Ebro and reach while a sea level of up to 700 meters. 
For several years La Rioja was the only thing people could associate with Spanish wine. The name is thought to come from the Rio Oja, one of the seven tributaries of the Ebro in this area. The Oja runs near the town of Haro and flows from the south in the Ebro.About a hundred kilometers separate Haro, the westernmost city in the region of origin, and Alfaro at the eastern end, with the main town Logroño as the center of the region.
Rioja now produces one of Spain’s flagship red wines. After the younger DPOs, especially the DOs Ribera del Duero and Priorat, Rioja initiated an unprecedented quality initiative for the last 20 years. This has brought the region back to the emblematic figure it used to be. The region is home to countless styles, ensuring the elaboration of some of the greatest wines of Spain. No other region offers such a broad spectrum at this level of quality. The modern wines, highly concentrated wines, and some crianzas are even compared with the classic, long mature Gran Reserva in the old style.
The entire region is an area favored by the interaction of two completely conflicting climatic influences: the Atlantic climate and Mediterranean climate. Their interaction causes moderate temperatures and an average annual rainfall of about 400 mm / year; this favors the ideal climatic conditions for viticulture. Tempranillo is the prominent grape variety in the region. No other region has so much nurtured this variety than Rioja.
In 1925, Rioja was the first to adopt the "geographical origin appellation" or PDO, a classification based on the model of its French counterpart in the Bordeaux wine region. The wine estates are subject to the strictest quality controls by the Consejo Regulador, a governing body which was created by decree law in 1926.

La Rioja is divided into 3 sub-regions:

1.    Rioja Alta

The largest and most famous Rioja Alta with the largest bodegas and renowned names. Rioja Alta is the real center of viticulture. The most and largest wineries in the region are established  in an area that covers 42 % of the acreage of the entire Rioja. Clay soild Soils are remarkably light brown, calcareous clay soils. Attached here is primarily the Tempranillo grape, which gives the Rioja wines of character and elegance. As in the Rioja Alavesa, the height of vine parcels and a cooler climate allows to grow light, fresh wines of excellent quality.

2.    Rioja Alavesa

Rioja Alavesa is the smallest of the three sub-regions. It is located north of the Ebro between Haro and Logroño; The vineyards are here mainly on south-facing slopes, in often higher altitudes than those in the Rioja Alta. Here the influence of the Atlantic Ocean to the north is noticeable. The rainfall is almost 500 mm / year. The soils are calcareous and slightly granular or porous, giving the wines a low acidity and a distinct flower.

3.    Rioja Baja

The Rioja Baja is the eastern extension of Rioja Alta and follows in the lowlands along the riverside of the Ebro. The Rioja Baja accounts for about 36 % of the acreage, representing 37 municipalities. The climate is noticeably warmer and drier, as for the precipitation, it falls only about 370 mm per year, resulting in wines with a higher alcohol content and a lower acidity. The yields are higher than in other regions of the Rioja.
Rioja has recomposed itself following stiffer competition from the emerging wine regions of the two Castile’s, Ribera, Mancha, and Priorat in Catalonia. Wine connoisseurs will appreciate the consistently high quality in recent years. Rioja is now regarded as a truly elegant and flavorful wine. Wine-growers have lowered the wood intensity and have indeed elaborated more modern, fruity young wines. The premium wines, classic Reserva and Gran Reserva remain seductive red wines and strong ambassador of Spain.

A wine region in essence

The Rioja region of Spain is home to one of the world’s finest, and most long lived wines: Rioja. Rioja's renaissance, in the latter half of the 19th century, was a direct result of the phylloxera bug that decimated vineyards around the globe.The French producers from Bordeaux came to Rioja, anxious to find replacement for wort and vines at a time grapevines went totally affected by the phyloxerra, vine pest.

Rioja wine is a blend that relies on one main grape: Tempranillo. Tempranillo tends to produce wines with a dusty, leathery edge to their raspberry and blackberry fruit tones.

Tempranillo grapes tend to produce a slightly high acid wine of medium to medium-full body. The wines of Rioja rely on additional grappes such as Mazuela, Garnacha and Maciano.The tradition of extended oak aging for Rioja's great wines contributes to a imprint that adds up to the additional layers of flavor and aroma.

Traditionally the aging of wines was promoting American oak barrels to develop some sweeter and balancing aromas like vanilla and cinamon, however an increasing number of producers have turned to French oak, or a mix of American and French oak barrels, favoring some subtle spice tones.Rioja continues to undergo extended aging in Barrel with Reserva and Gran Reserva bottlings, spending a minimum of 36 months, 60 months years respectively before it goes to market.

Typology of Rioja wines

  • Joven: as its name suggest, these wines are best in their youth. They are mostly fruity wines full of red berry fruits.
  • Crianza: these are wines that spend at least 6 months aging in oak barrels allowing them to soften a touch and pick up subtle vanilla or tobacco notes while preserving most of their intense red fruit tone. hese are wines that can benefit from a year or two in the cellar but are accessible on release.
  • Roble: Roble means Oak in Spanish. Wine labeled Roble are wines that have had period of oak aging, frequently less than what is required to achieve Crianza status, yet offer the obvious effects of barrel aging, frequently more pronounced than with a Crianza.
  • Reserva: the minimum aging in barrels for these ones is 12 months in oak barrels, plus an additional 24 months in the cellar before release. Reservas acquire with the time spent in barrels, a silkier structure and richer flavours with emerging notes of soil and spice.
  • Gran Reserva: the highest classification in Rioja, Gran Reserva wines are kept in barrel for at least 24 months and an additional 36 months in the cellar. These wines can be lush with an amazing depth of flavor that combines successive layers of red fruit of Tempranillo plus spice tones and vanilla from the aging in the oak. All in all, we have subtle notes of leather, and nuts. These are silky, elegant wines, long in the mouth that stand proudly among the worlds finest.