So just why is Rioja wine so good, and how can you make sure you’re experiencing genuine wine from the Rioja region in Spain?
Here are our top Rioja wine tasting tips!
What makes quality Rioja wine?
Spain’s region of Rioja has the right climate, soil and long-held traditions, which combined make one of the most prestigious wines in the world. Rioja wine by law has to be in the best condition for drinking to be sold. This means that all the wineries have to dedicate space and time for aging their wines if they want to get the Rioja accreditation.
You can spot a top Spanish wine by it having Denominación de Origen (DO) on the label. There are 69 definitions under the DO, such as Ribera del Duero. Rioja has gained the premium designation: Denominación de Origen Calificada or DOC or DOCa (denomination of qualified origin), fulfilling the highest requirement.
Rioja wine can be put into one of four categories depending on the ageing process, identified by different numbered labels or seals, which the DO Control Board issues to wines that meet the quality requirements:
Young wines: This category guarantees the origin and vintage of the wine. They are usually wines in their first or second year and have fresh, fruity, primary characteristics. May also include other wines that don’t fit into the categories of Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.
Crianza wines: Wines that are, at the least, in their third year, and have spent a minimum of one year in casks.
Reserva wines: Selected wines of the best vintages with an excellent potential, which have been aged for a minimum of three years, with at least one year in casks and at least six months in bottle.
Gran Reserva wines: Selected wines from exceptional vintages with a minimum ageing period of 60 months and with at least two years in oak casks and two years in the bottle.
What is Tempranillo wine?
Tempranillo is thought to be native to the Rioja region of Spain, and is the region’s most typical grape, grown in more than 75% of the vineyards. It prospers here due to the perfect conditions from the altitude and shifting day- and night-time temperatures. Tempranillo produces red and white wines that can withstand long ageing periods, has a good balance of alcohol content, color and acidity, and has a smooth, fruity texture that turns velvety as it ages.
Its name comes from the Spanish word “temprano” meaning “early” because the grape ripens quite early in the season.
Are all Rioja wines Tempranillo?
Riojas aren’t always Tempranillo, there are various different grape varieties used in Rioja wine region to look out for:
Reds: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo, Maturana Tinta.
Whites: Viura, Malvasía, Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Maturana Blanca, Turruntés, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo.
Rioja vs Garnacha wine
The Garnacha grape is native to Spain and is the most extensively grown variety in the world. In a Rioja wine, its its aromas and body complements Tempranillo. Garnacha wines vary depending on growing temperatures and tending practices through its production process. Warm areas tend to produce a more rugged grape, while cool areas produce more complex, yet well-balanced wines, and in particular, rosés.
It’s actually commonly known as Grenache in the rest of the world, even though really it ought to be called Garnacha as it originated in Spain, making its way to southern France in the 8th and 9th centuries. It’s the third-most planted grape in Spain and the second-most planted variety in the world.
Other things you might not know about Rioja wine
- Rioja wine is generally gluten free as not only is it made from a fruit which contains none of the gluten proteins found in grain, but Rioja winemakers tend not to add the fining and sealing agents that other winemakers might use.
- New generations of wine growers are exploring the broad possibilities with Rioja wine and trying different things like using single-varietal wine, recover endangered native grapes and old elaboration processes. But this is not really new, as back in the 19th century the Marquess of Murrieta experimented with the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties of foreign grape.