The region’s most important river isn’t Rioja’s namesake, Rio Oja, but the Ebro River. Snaking between the Sierra Cantábrica and the Sierra Demanda, the Ebro and its tributaries have helped carve out vineyards that have been celebrated for at least two centuries.
Rioja itself has three sub-regions — Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta, and Rioja Baja — and each has distinct differences. Rioja Alavesa is known for its premium quality, with Rioja Alta just behind. Tempranillo is king, but Garnacha, Mazuelo (Carineña), Graciano and other grapes are generating new ideas and styles in the region.
Reds, whites and rosés all have a home in the Ebro Valley, but the reds account for the greater part of its fame. Aging classifications are the primary means for differentiating red wines from one another: refer to more detail under Rioja DOCa.
Denominations of origin:
La Rioja DOCa
Denominación de Orígen Calificada
Rioja was the first Spanish wine region to obtain DO status in 1925. In 1991, it was promoted to DOCa (Qualified Designation of Origin), a higher category reserved for wines maintaining a proven consistency and quality over a long period of time. It is one of just two regions in Spain, along with Priorat, to have this status.
Rioja DOCa is known primarily for its reds, though it also makes some whites and rosés. The main grape is Tempranillo, which in these soils and climate combines to give the wines their elegance, concentration of aromas and complexity of flavours.
Rioja wines have evolved steadily. Today they offer a broad range of styles. Wines range from Joven (young/unoaked) wines, Crianzas (2 years of ageing, one of them in oak) and at the top end of the market, the Reservas (3 years of ageing, at least 1 in oak) and Gran Reservas (5 years ageing, at least 2 in oak).
Rioja has consolidated its prestige among consumers, and has made them a reference for Spanish wines worldwide. The area is positioned among the elite of the historical European denominations of origin.
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