Rioja - innovation, diversity, tradition...

Cune Monopole and Emperatriz red Rioja.

Cune Monopole and Emperatriz red Rioja. - Credit: Archant

Rioja is one of Spain’s main wine making regions and certainly is the best known. It is the go-to region when people are asked to recall a Spanish wine that they know and enjoy.

It is a region in north eastern with a long-established wine making tradition reflected in the well-known styles available in most wine shops. There is a great buzz in the region as it is currently experiencing much innovation in the vineyards and wineries with new grape varieties being grown successfully and new winemaking trends becoming established.

There is now a greater diversity of styles using the traditional classification of Riojas as a reference point either following them or consciously diverging from them.

Many bodegas (producers) still label their wines according to the length of time the wine has spent aging in both oak and bottle before being released for sale. Thus, a Crianza must spend at least a year in barrel and a year in bottle, a Reserva, the category for some of the best Riojas, has a at least a year in oak and two years in bottle.

More modern producers are using more French oak than the traditionally used American oak producing wines that are richer and deeper flavoured and keep longer. They also work outside the Crianza and Reserva classification allowing the wines to age as long as they need to produce the preferred style of wine.

In addition to the individual bodegas winemaking changes another recent development has been the introduction of the single vineyard Rioja category or Vinedo Singulares by the Consejo Regulador de la Denominacion de Origen Calificada.

Producers must be able to define the strict boundaries of their vineyard and will be limited to 100 per cent handpicking, 20 per cent lower yields and full traceability to be able to use this category on their wines. The parameters define a wine of greater quality by more closely managing the production.

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Although red Rioja has the greatest following white Rioja is making a comeback from “possible extinction” with the use of new permitted grape varieties and production methods making them one of the world’s most improved wine categories.

In addition to the Viura grape, which at its best when young can be zesty and fresh - though quickly becoming flabby over time - the Malvasia and Garnacha Blanco grapes are more widely used to make a more characterful wine.

Tempranillo Blanco is gaining popularity not least because of its links to the red grape Tempranillo and also its fresh citrusy fruit notes. Maturana Blanca and Turruntes Blanca are also being successfully grown and making lovely fresh wines often in white Rioja blends.

It’s a good time to revisit Rioja and seek out some of the fun quality new styles.