Monday, February 5, 2024

5 Facts You Should Know about the Rioja

Whether you're coming with Wine-Knows on their sold-out tour to Spain this autumn or not, here's a quick summary of the top things for wine-lovers to know about the Rioja wine district.

1.  The Rioja is Spain’s most famous wine district. 

The Rioja is arguably Spain’s top wine region and certainly the most famous wine area with the exception of Jerez (Sherry) in southern Spain.  Internationally renowned, the Rioja’s prestigious wines often receive top-ratings by critics and connoisseurs.   This being said, the Rioja has increasingly had to fight off competition from the nearby Ribera Del Duero region.   Nonetheless, the Rioja is still considered Spain’s most important and finest producer of premium red wines.

                             Tempranillo, the Rioja's most famous grape, is a major part of red blends

         2.  Wines are often blended in the Rioja.

Red wines in the Rioja are traditionally a blend of traditional Spanish red grape varieties.  The base of the blend is Tempranillo, however, Garnacha (aka Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo (aka Carignan) are also used in the blends. 


                             The Rioja is also one of Spain's most beautiful wine regions

       3.  The Rioja also produces terrific white, rose & sparkling wines.

Although the Rioja is associated mainly with red wines, the region also makes some stunning whites and rose (rosado) wines.  White Rioja (Rioja Blanco), is quite rare making up only 5-10% of the region’s wines.  Viura is the main grape of these white wines, however,  Rioja Blancos are a blend of other grapes like Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Malvasia, and even Chardonnay.  Sparkling wine is also made and has been included in the Rioja's latest wine classification.

             Rioja Alavesa lies at the foot of the mountains separating the Rioja from the Atlantic

        4.  The Terroir of the Rioja is Diverse.

The Rioja wine region is about 210 square miles.  The mountains on its northern border help moderate the climate by protecting the region from the strong influences of the Atlantic.  The River Ebro flows through the region also moderates the climate, protecting it in winter from freezing temperatures and cooling it in the scalding summers.   In general, the Rioja’s soil is limestone and iron.

The Rioja is divided into 3 sub-districts based upon terroir.

~ Rioja Alavesa is the most northern of the 3 sub-regions.  It is closest to the Atlantic so the area is colder.  Soil here is limestone and clay.

~ Rioja Alta comprises the higher altitudes vineyards in the western section of the Rioja.  Soil is iron rich and clay.

 ~ Rioja Oriental (formerly called Rioja Baja) is located in the eastern section of the district and accounts for 40% of the region’s wine.  This area is composed of lower altitude vineyards.  Unlike the other two sub-districts, it is warm and dry.  Soil, washed down from higher altitudes, is high in iron.


    5.  The Rioja’s wine classification system was changed in 2018.

While aging requirements have always been present in the Rioja's wine system (Crianza 2 year minimum, Reserva 3 year minimum & Gran Reserva 5 year minimum), the biggest change in the new rules is the addition of the sparkling wine category, Gran Anada, and the allowance of single vineyard wines echoing the importance of terroir.

Stay tuned for the next article on the Ribera del Duero wine district that Wine-Knows travelers will also be visiting this October.

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