Have you ever tasted real Spanish wine? If so, you must know how unusual, exquisite and unique it is. It is produced in the north of central Spain, in the Rioja region, which is world-famous not only for its charming medieval villages and picturesque views but also for its absolutely stunning high-quality wines.
The main feature is the effect of ageing in oak. It is the use of oak and the pronounced vanilla flavour in the wines that have become the trademark of Rioja. Originally French oak was used for barrels production, but because of serious price hikes, local winemakers switched to American raw materials but retained the French method of production (manual splitting of the wood, long drying of the wood in the open air).
Rioja mainly produces red wine (85%) since the region is dominated by red grapes, which are native to Spain, but rose and white wines are also found. The latter, moreover, are of very high quality, consisting mostly of Viura, Garnacha Blanca, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Verdejo and Malvasia.
Rioja wines are divided into four levels of classification: Genérico, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. They come in medium to full-bodied, high in tannins and rich in aromas of dark berries, plums, tobacco and herbs.
If you want to find authentic Rioja wines, look for the DOC Rioja or DOCa Rioja (Denominación de Origen Calificada) label. DOCa is a mark of the highest quality production from vine to bottle. It is the strictest wine standard in the world.
By the way, "La Rioja" and "Rioja" are not the same thing. La Rioja is the name of the wine, and Rioja is the wine region. The region itself is divided into three sub-regions, each producing its own unique and distinctive varieties.
The smallest region with 264 wineries. Most of the vineyards in this region are located in the foothills of the Sierra de Tolono. The climate is Atlantic. The soil here is high in clay and limestone, so the vines are grown at a great distance from each other. The wines produced in Rioja Alavesa have a fuller body and higher acidity compared to other regions. The main grape varieties are the reds Tempranillo and Graciano and the whites Viura. A combination of Tempranillo and Viura (at least 15%) is also popular. This combination reduces the colour of the wine and increases its acidity. A distinctive feature in winemaking in this region is carbonic acid maceration (the grapes are not removed or crushed before fermentation). The resulting wine is said to be softer and fruitier.
Atlantic climate. Soils are clay-limestone, clay-iron, and alluvial. The wines of this region are rich in colour, with good acidity and moderate strength. The production is based on the Tempranillo grape, which reveals all its beauty here. Compared to wines from Alavesa, Alta wines are less dense and acidic and more subtle.
Mediterranean climate. The soil is clay-iron. Provides 40% of all wine production in Rioja. The climate here is the hottest and driest, which is why there is more sugar in the berries and more alcohol in the wines themselves. The main grape variety used is Garnacha. It produces a wine with high alcohol content but with a low level of acidity and flavour.
The Romans founded the very first wineries in this region. They planted them literally all over Rioja, and some of them have stood the test of time. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the arrival of the Moors in Spain, the wineries were forgotten for a long time. Wine production in Rioja was revived only in 1512 when Spain became an independent country.
Not to forget the "Great Wine Disease", which affected France and all European countries in the middle of the 19th century. This disease was caused by aphids (or grape phylloxera), which attacked the vines' roots. Famous winemakers of France and Europe left without their vineyards went to Rioja to do their favourite work. That's why Rioja has so many genuinely upscale wines.
Nowadays, there are more than 600 wineries in Rioja, which means around 140,000 acres of cultivated land and approximately 250 million litres of wine a year! In addition, the local cellars are full of ageing wine (in Rioja, it is aged for up to 20 years). Even if wine were to drastically disappear all over the world now, Rioja would provide that volume to everyone for years to come!
As you can see, Rioja is a true paradise for connoisseurs of good wine.
So, if you get a chance to visit Spain, be sure to visit this wonderful region. If you are in Jaro (the wine capital of Rioja), be sure to go to the annual wine flights, which gather thousands of tourists and locals. At the festival, everyone climbs a nearby mountain and throws red wine at each other!
A storm of emotions and a charge of positivity is guaranteed!
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