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La Rioja

1Rioja is Spain’s most internationally recognized wine region.  Famous for it’s wines made from the Tempranillo grape and styles that vary depending on the ageing category; from light, dry and fruity Joven wines to rustic, mature, woody Grand Reservas.  It was the first Spanish region to gain DOC status.  Rioja is centrally located in northern Spain’s Upper Ebro Valley, the capital city is Logrono.  There are three distinct sub-regions with climatic and soil differences. 

Rioja Alavesa – To the west of Logrono on the North bank of the river Ebro.  The vineyards are planted high in the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains, up to 800 meters.  The chalky soil and aspect make for a light and elegant style of Rioja. 

Rioja Alta – To the west of Logrono on the South bank of the river Ebro.  Vineyard altitude ranges from 500 meters to 800 meters.  The soils are high in iron and produce bolder wines.  The climate of Rioja Alta and Alavesa is moderated by the Atlantic ocean and somewhat protected from their winds by the Cantabrian Mountains.    

Rioja Baja – To the east of Logrono on the South bank of the Ebro River.  The climate is more continental; hot summers and cold winters.  You see more of the heat loving Garnacha Tinta (red Grenache) and Graciano here.  

This is a region of small growers who traditionally sold their grapes to co-operatives.  Red Rioja is made up mainly of Tempranillo with small amounts of Mazuelo and Graciano permitted. White Rioja is typically Viura dominant and can contain small amounts of Verdejo and even Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay now. Traditional Riojas were defined by maturation (often long oxidative ageing) in old oak barriques, ofet reused so no more oak character was imparted to the wine; the result was a smoothly textured wine with complex mature notes, but lacking in vibrancy.  From the 1970’s the style of Rioja was characterised by ageing in new American oak (clove, vanilla, dill, toast) the wines were more tannic and there was more focus on primary fruit.  Historically white Rioja was aged for extended periods in American oak and very oxidative; golden in colour and nutty and savoury on the palate.  These are still produced; but modern drinkers seem to prefer light bodied fresh whites that are produced in stainless steel and bottled young.      

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