La Rioja is a small autonomous community in the north-central part of Spain, wedged between the huge regions of Castilla y León in the west and Aragón in the east, and the small neighbouring regions of Navarre and the Basque Country to the north. Spanish Rioja wines are fruity and mouth-watering when young, and bewil...
La Rioja is a small autonomous community in the north-central part of Spain, wedged between the huge regions of Castilla y León in the west and Aragón in the east, and the small neighbouring regions of Navarre and the Basque Country to the north. Spanish Rioja wines are fruity and mouth-watering when young, and bewilderingly complex when aged for long periods in oak barrels. It produces 70% red wines, 20% rosé wines and 10% white and sparkling wines. The two main red grape varieties used here are Tempranillo (the "precocious") and Garnacha (Grenache). The entire region dedicates all its production to a single appellation, the Rioja DOCa (Denominacion de Origen Calificada, a sort of super D.O. recognising the high quality of the wines).
Rioja has been noted for the quality of its wines since the 10th century. However, the wines of this region were not exportable due to the remote location of the coasts and the lack of transport infrastructure. In the 12th century, the wines of Duero and Toro were much more prestigious. Rioja wines could not even accompany the Hispanic colonial expansion. They were far too fragile for the long journeys to the tropics and arrived vinegary. After the 1855 classification of the Grands Crus of Bordeaux, it was clear that the best wines in the world are Sherry, Port, Mosel and Bordeaux. As early as 1850, the Marquis de Riscal, wishing to restore Rioja's coat of arms, planted the same grape varieties in order to produce the same type of wine as in Bordeaux. At the same time, the Marquis of Murrieta travelled to Bordeaux to study new wine-growing techniques before returning to Logroño to create modern Rioja, that subtle blend of Tempranillo and Garnache, aged for a long time in oak barrels. The efforts of the 2 Marquises were rewarded, the first of whom was awarded "First Prize" at the Bordeaux Wine Competition as early as 1862. The second caught up Vega Sicilia in the pantheon of the greatest Spanish wines.
Geographically, Rioja is protected to the northwest by the Cantabrian Mountains and extends along the entire length of the River Ebro. It is divided into 3 sub-regions: to the north of Logroño, straddling the Basque Country is Rioja Alavesa, to the west is Rioja Alta and to the east is Rioja Baja. On plateaus 400 metres above sea level, the first two regions have a cooler climate and are perfectly suited to the good ripening of the Tempranillo. The Baja, located in a lower plain, is ideal for producing the powerful Grenache.
Rioja has invented an extraordinary ageing system! Spanish Rioja wines, whatever their colour, can be classified into 4 categories: Joven are simple and fruity wines that are aged in oak barrels and are bottled in the year after the harvest, Crianza gain in complexity after one year in oak barrels and one year in bottle, Reserva must be 3 years old, one of which in oak barrels, Gran Reserva must be 5 years old, 2 of which in oak barrels. These last 2 categories are rare because they are produced in very small quantities and not every year.
Tempranillo represents 70% of the vines. It has medium acidity and tannins. This grape variety gives primary aromas of black fruits and develops tertiary aromas linked to the ageing of cigars, leather and chocolate. Garnache represents 15 to 20% of the vines and brings red fruits and spices, alcohol and body to the whole. Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano represent the rest of the grape varieties and complement the first two admirably by bringing their great acidity, powerful tannins and superb complexity.
Viura (Macabeo) is the main grape variety used for white wines. It produces generous and well-balanced wines, easy to drink when young and terrifyingly complex as they age. It is traditionally complemented by Malvasia and White Garnache, the former providing unrivalled power and aromatic complexity and the latter adding volume and alcohol.
Rioja has always produced delicious sparkling wines. Surprisingly enough, Rioja has the right to the Catalan designation of Cava for these traditional method wines. They are made from Viura, whose high acidity is reminiscent of Parellada de Cava and Chardonnay de Champagne.
Alfavin.ch is proud to work with the producers of Rioja: