Referring back to the article we wrote a couple of weeks ago on Why go on a wine tour of Spain – Part 1, we listed several enological (the winemaking practices), viticultural (the grape growing practices) and touristic reasons why the different top wine-producing regions of Spain are so unique and each worth visiting. In this article we will cover the D.O.Ca. Rioja and specifically, what makes this spectacular grape growing region so worth visiting.
The D.O.Ca. Rioja
Rioja is known as one of Spain’s oldest and most famous grape growing regions as it produces world-class wines with a unique personality and an exceptional aptitude for ageing. The region itself is located about 2.5 hours north of Madrid and is much longer than it is wide, where over 100 kilometers lie between the westernmost city of Haro and easternmost city of Alfaro.
Lying on both sides of the Ebro River, the 63,593 hectares of vineyards that make up the D.O.C. Rioja have been divided into 3 distinct subzones: that of Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. While the elevation does not vary much between the three subzones (the average altitude for all of Rioja is around 2,100 feet above sea-level), stark differences in climate and soil type do exist. In specific, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta are both influenced by an Atlantic climate, where the former has chalky-clay soils and the latter has chalky-clay, ferrous-clay and alluvial soils. Rioja Baja, on the other hand, has a warmer and drier climate that is influenced by the Mediterranean Sea and its soils are alluvial, very rocky and made up of ferrous-clay.
The entire appellation is said to benefit from the confluence of the two distinctly different climates (Atlantic and Mediterranean) and various soil types, which together provide ideal conditions for growing high-quality grapes. This varying terroir is also what allows local winemakers to make a wide range of wines with different personalities, flavors and styles.
90% percent of wine production in Rioja is made up of red wine, where the principal grape varieties are Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano. The remaining 10% of wine made in the region is white wine, which is made predominantly from the grape variety Viura (also known as Macabeu), although sometimes a times a bit of Malavasia and Garnacha Blanca are blended in for depth.
Wines from Rioja are known all over the world for being synonymous with quality and one of the traits that sets Rioja Wines apart is their excellent aptitude for ageing. Currently there are four kinds of wine that have been classified and named by the Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja, which differ depending upon their ageing process:
• Joven or Young wines: Wines that have not been barrel-aged and which are known to keep their primary freshness and fruitiness.
• Crianza wines: Wines that have been aged for a total of 2 years – typically
a minimum of 1 year in barrel and then a few months in bottle
• Reserva wines: Wines that have been aged for a total of 3 years – typically
a minimum of 2 years in barrel and then one year in bottle.
• Gran Reserva wines: Wines that have been aged for a total of 5 years – typically
a minimum of 3 years in barrel and then 2 years in bottle.
The individual characteristics of each vintage determine the amount of wine that winemakers will assign to each ageing category –Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva – and once the wine has been bottled, back labels or seals accompany every bottle that is sold so that the consumer my know what kind of wine is inside the bottle.
Rioja wines are elegant and original due to the diversity in winegrowing techniques allowed by the Denominación de Origen Calificada. Many wineries blend different grape varieties and/or different vineyards from different towns together, looking for the complementary elements that will intensify the taste and flavor of their wines. This is undoubtedly the best-known kind of wine made in Rioja, although today wineries are also producing an increasing number of single-vineyard wines that have a naturally high fruit concentration and are aimed at expressing the traits of a specific vineyard.
While on a tour of Rioja with Niso Wine Tours, we will take you to visit small, family-owned wineries, some of the oldest and most reputable wineries, and the newest/most cutting-edge wineries in all three subzones in order to give you a true insider’s view of this one-of-a-kind wine region. You will have the opportunity to dine with the winery owners, savor the fare at one of the region’s Michelin-star restaurants or eat alongside the locals at one of the region’s many traditional asadors. We also provide a multitude of outdoor activities and relaxing spas to choose from, to insure that your trip to Rioja will be as well-rounded and exceptional as the superb wines that are produced in the region.