Today I would like to talk about one of my most favorite European wine producing regions- La Rioja.

Rioja is located in the northern Spain along the Ebro River. It is the most popular Spanish wine region. The region has three sub-regions- Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. 

Grapes grown in these regions - Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Mazuelo, Graciano, Viura, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca.

This region is known to produce both red and white wines, but is mostly known for its red wines. So what makes Rioja wines so interesting? 

Well, its history and the wine making techniques. Even though its wine history dates back before BC, the interesting part of it starts in 1800s when Phylloxera and powdery mildew devastated French wine industry. French wine merchants traveled to Rioja looking to expand their stocks and this changed the face of Rioja forever. By the end of 19th century, with the help of French money and consultants Rioja was flooding the French market.

Rioja wines are usually compared to Bordeaux wines because is only 300km away, but the landscape and vineyards are more similar to Bourgogne. Rioja wine industry is mostly dominated by local family vineyards who are small and the grapes are sold off to wine producers that produce the wine. This is the biggest similarity to Bourgogne.

The distinctive taste of Rioja wines comes from aging in an oak. Rioja wines are aged in both French and American oaks. The use of oak gives the wine a vanilla flavor. What really gives the wine its punchiness is the American oak, because American oak gives a lot more flavor than the French oak. This can be explained because of the climate - in America its hotter and therefor the oak has more pores that allows the oak to give more flavor than the French oak.

So this leads us to the classification of Rioja wines. Rioja wines are classified into four categories based on aging- Rioja, Rioja Crianza, Rioja Rserva and Rioja Gran Reserva.

  • Simply Rioja means it has been aged less than a year in an oak.
  • Rioja Crianza has to be aged at least one year in an oak and one year in the bottle.
  • Rioja Reserva has to be aged at least one year in an oak and two years in the bottle.
  • Rioja Gran Reserva has to be aged at least two years in an oak and tree years in the bottle.

So how to know what you are buying? Well, for Rioja wines the appellation has made it really easy. All Rioja wines that follow the appellation system have a sticker that says what it is (like in the picture).

So as a summary - Rioja has an interesting history, they are good quality, easy to know what you are buying and are pretty affordable. This is why Rioja wines are one of my favorite European wines.