Modern or traditional: Rioja style
Rioja wine can be vinified in a more traditional or modern way. Nowadays it is mostly about the modern method, but there are still some traditionalists in the region. It is this contrast that makes Rioja a really interesting region for wine growing in Spain.
The traditional style
In the past few years, the traditional wine style has become popular again in the region. Due to the fact that it was hardly used at all towards the end of the last millennium, there are only a few winegrowers left who are really familiar with it. Traditional Riojas usually mature in barriques of used American oak. The wine style produces glossy red, mostly fruity wines with a fine body. The wines are characterized by polished tannins and woody to spicy notes.
The modern style
The first red wine from this region, considered to be modern, comes from Marqués de Riscal. In 1986 he made history by deciding to adapt to the new trends in viticulture. Due to late harvests the Rioja grapes are much riper. The wine is aged in new French oak in a relatively short time. The goal is a rich body with high tannins and intense colour, often complemented by woody aromas and vanilla notes.
Barrique maturation as a common feature of both styles
Characteristic for the development of these wines is always the use of oak barrels. In Spain the terms barrique and Rioja are used almost synonymously. The region has always been known for vintages that have matured for a particularly long time in small wooden barrels. For this reason the wood-aged character of their wines is known all over the world even today.
Wine-growing region Rioja
Rioja is probably the most significant wine-growing region in all of Spain. Here, modern methods of cultivation are in contrast to traditional practices. However, the wood-aged red wines are always characterised by their intensity and an interesting blend of various aromas.
The sub-areas of Rioja
Rioja is marketed as a continuous area. However, it actually consists of three separate parts. These are not only characterised by different wines, but are even located in different political administrative districts.
Rioja Alta is the largest section, covering 24,000 hectares. Except for a small part, the whole area lies south of the river Ebro. It is characterized by the combination of hot summers and cold winters. The alluvial soils consist mainly of loam and ferrous clay. Wine from this region consists mostly of the Tempranillo grape variety. But Graciano and Mazuelo are also quite popular. The wines are characterized by strong acidity, tannins and a rich body. They also have an exceptionally high shelf life capability.
The 20,500 hectare Rioja Baja area is located south of Logroño, which is the capital of the province of La Rioja. Here gentle hills and flat landscapes alternate with each other. Due to the continental, almost Mediterranean climate, it is the warmest part of the vineyard. The soils are composed of clay, sand, river rock and clay. It is mainly the Garnacha that grows here instead of the otherwise popular Tempranillo. Extract-rich and strong wines are the result of this varied terroir.
Rioja Alavesa is the Basque part of the vineyard. The area is located a little higher up and joins the Cantabrian Mountains. The soils have an extremely high lime content. On 12,000 hectares there are mostly small vineyards and quiet family businesses rule the market. The wines from this region are traditionally consumed rather young. They are fruity and light, but still carry tangy notes.
The most popular grape varieties of Rioja
Four varieties dominate the vineyards: Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha and Mazuelo. They are distinguished by completely different characteristics. All four varieties are available in VINELLO's extensive assortment, which will find their way to you quickly, safely and climate-neutrally.
Tempranillo is not only the most popular grape variety for Rioja red wine, but also the most important and most frequently cultivated variety in the region. The fact that there are over eighty different names for this grape variety shows how old and widespread it is. Tempranillo was first documented in the 13th century.
The term "Tempranillo" comes from "temprano", the Spanish word for "early" - as the wine ripens quite early. These are high-yielding vines, which mean as much to Spain as Cabernet Sauvignon does to France. The fruity wines are characterised by an intense colour and soft tannins, while the acidity remains rather in the mid-range. Tempranillo wines play with multi-faceted aromas ranging from strawberries and spices to leather and tobacco.
Graciano is a grape variety with a medium-late ripening period. It is low yielding but has a great ageing potential. In the nineteenth century the Graciano was on the verge of extinction due to phylloxera. After Rioja was upgraded to DOCa, this popular grape variety was also revived. It produces colourful red wines with distinct acidity and rich tannins. The aromas remind of an interesting combination of cherry and pepper.
There are numerous synonyms for the Garnacha variety, which confirms its international spread. It is characterised by its rich growth and high alcohol content. For this reason, winegrowers traditionally cut the wine back early, and the harvest also takes place rather soon. Although there are great differences in the colour of the grapes, this variety almost always produces very light Rioja wine. Nevertheless, the wine remains full-bodied and juicy with fruity aromas of strawberry, black cherry and red currant.
Varietally pure wines of the Mazuelo grape variety are an absolute rarity, because the stocks in Spain are not very high. The wine has a dark colour and appears almost black in the glass, but with low alcohol content. In the palate Mazuelo presents itself strongly, in warm years with long growth periods it becomes especially full of character. Besides high tannins and light, planty aromas, the notes of blackberry, earth and liquorice are particularly interesting.
Grading of Rioja wines
The strong success of Rioja wines is mainly due to the well-structured grading system of the wine according to quality and maturity. For years there has been no changes in this system, and throughout Spain and Portugal it has often been set as the norm. In other countries, too, the different grades make it easier to evaluate the quality.
Red wines with the predicate Crianza must have matured for at least two years, one of them in oak barrels. White wines must be aged in barrels for at least six months.
Reserva wines have a minimum ageing period of three years. Red wines must be stored in barrels for at least one year, white wines again for six months.
Rioja Gran Reserva
Gran Reserva is the highest quality level of this region, resulting in higher prices. These wines are aged for at least five years. For red wines, this means at least two years in the barrel, for white wines six months.
Interesting facts about Rioja
What kind of soils exist?
The soils in this area consist mainly of ferruginous clay, loam and river rock. Depending on the location, sand and lime are also present, so that each wine gets its own character from the different areas.
What types of grapes are grown here?
The area grows mainly the popular Tempranillo grape variety, but also produces interesting Graciano wines. In addition, there is the extremely light and fruity Garnacha variety and Mazuelo, with its dark colour and strong character.
Which wine style dominates the region?
Towards the end of the last millennium, the traditional wine style was increasingly seen as outdated. Late harvests and short ageing are the characteristics of the newer, modern style. Today, this is in contrast to the traditional cellar work, which has become more popular again in recent years.
Buy Rioja wines online at VINELLO
Rioja is certainly the most fascinating and most productive wine-growing region in all of Spain. At VINELLO you can browse through a complex range of products and find the right wine for your taste. This will be sent quickly and easily to your delivery address. Whether fruity, woody or striking acidity - Rioja is available for everything.