About the Rioja Wine Region

Spain’s most famous wine offering, this region offers up excellent wines; whether they be red, white or rosé, oaked or unoaked, old vines or young. There are a multitude of styles to discover in Rioja.

Key Rioja Grape Varieties
  • Graciano
  • Garnacha
  • Mazelo
  • Virua
  • Malvazia

Facts about Rioja Wines

Rioja is divided into three sub regions:

Rioja Alta: cooler temperatures and a higher altitude here bring higher acidity and a more elegant style to the wines.

Rioja Baja: the neighbouring region to Rioja Alta, slightly warmer and south facing slopes, the better quality wines come from these two areas.

Rioja Alavesa: A more southerly position and on large flat plains producing very fruit forward wines. The bulk production of Rioja wines come from here and are typically made ready to drink much earlier than the wines from the previous sub regions.

The main grape varieties used for white Rioja wines are Viura and Malvasia. When unoaked, these wines can be quite neutral; however, the oaked versions create a rich and creamy style which can rival some of the best Burgundies around!

The main grapes used for red Rioja are Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo. These wines are typically oaked (to what extent depends on classification) and have a medium body and usually a spicy kick.

Rioja has Bordeaux to thank for its fame. When the vine-destroying mite Phyloxerra hit France, wine makers headed south to Spain and set up production alongside vineyard owners there, thus beginning the Rioja phenomenon.

The classical style of Rioja is aged in French oak, which gives the wine a more oxidative character. Modern style wines feature a much more vanilla prominent flavour which is gained by the use of American oak and the increasingly more frequently used Hungarian oak.

Classifications (the technical bit)

It’s all about ageing in Rioja. The following terms, as well as only being able to be produced from the permitted varieties and the time spent in barrel, have a direct effect on the wine style. Just remember these terms only mean something in Rioja. If you see it on a Chilean bottle, for example, it makes the wine sound good, but it has no direct relationship to what’s inside!

Rioja (Joven): little or no oak ageing at all, released after a year. These wines are young, fresh and fruity and a great expression of the Tempranillo grape in its youth.

Rioja Crianza: two years minimum ageing, one of which must be in barrel. It is not uncommon for these wines to be aged in older oak (2/3rd fill) so as to make the tannins softer and the wine more accessible but without a dominance of oak.

Rioja Reserva: three years minimum ageing, one of which must be in barrel. This is when Rioja starts to show its rich and complex flavours, notes of baked fruit and toasty, spicy notes.

Rioja Gran Reserva: three years minimum ageing, two of which must be in barrel. The finest grapes are often kept for Gran Reserva wines. These need to have age-worthy components like a balance of high tannin, fruit and good acidity. In the best years they can age for as long as 30 years.

Hennings Wine says

Rioja is definitely a go to wine; particularly a Crinaza, as these wines offer complexity balanced with affordability. Luis Cañas is a firm staff favourite here; with prices ranging from £12 – £35, you can’t go wrong!

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