The La Rioja Wine Region of Spain

If  you are wondering where to buy wine, this particular region has claim to fine wine, good wine and some of the highest wine ratings for their wine reviews.  La Rioja is a province located within northern Spain and it is also an autonomous community. The capital city is Logroño. Interestingly, the province was known as the name Logroño until the year 1980. La Rioja has experienced thousands of years of war and disputes regarding the land and it is no wonder due to the beauty and location. It ranks second in size regarding the autonomous communities of Spain and it also holds the smallest population with almost half of the citizens of this province residing in the capital of Logroño. Not surprisingly, half of the municipalities located there have a population of within 200 people.

Rioja is a wine that has the privileged status of having been awarded the Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa). What makes this label even more striking is the fact that it was in 1991 that La Rioja was the first to receive this title in Spain due to its consistent high quality of wine it has delivered year after year. 

The actual name of the province La Rioja is believed to be derived from the Spanish word Rio, meaning river in English, and Oja is the name of the river that flows through the province. The distinctive flavors located within wines of La Rioja are characterized by many factors. One of those factors includes the fact that the La Rioja region is separated by the sea via a large and long chain of mountains which is referred to as the Cantabrian Mountains. By having these tall barriers adjacent, the wines grapes of La Rioja are shielded from the severe winds. 

The History of La Rioja Wines

The wine harvests of La Rioja can be traced back as far as the Celtiberians. There is undisputed evidence that proves the grape was around in the year 873, via a written document from San Millán regarding a donation that was being sent to a particular monastery. Of course, winemaking could have been dated even further back in time.

Interestingly, monks were the primary caretakers of vineyards and did everything from planting the vines to harvesting the grapes to creating the wines. This is considered a common practice during the medieval times within multiple Mediterranean areas.

Through letters, poems and other documentation, winemaking and its connoisseurs have been written in history in La Rioja. It was the King of Navarra that allowed for the very first legal acknowledgement of the wine of La Rioja in the year 1102. It was almost five hundred years later before the cultivators of wine picked an actual mark to represent their art of winemaking and to symbolize the quality within the bottle.

Incredibly, the mayor of Logroño announced in the year 1650 that no carts were allowed to pass through the streets that were located in the immediate vicinity of wine cellars, lest their vibrations caused any sort of decrease in the expected quality of the wine that was in the making. It was a couple of years later that the very first document was drawn up regarding the intent to protect the highly praised quality of the Rioja wines.

An order was created in 1970 to advocate the Rioja wines and a total of 52 Rioja vicinities were included. During the very first assembling of the of the Royal Economic Society of Rioja Winegrowers (In Spanish it is known as the Real Sociedad Económica de Cosecheros de La Rioja), multiple ideas were discussed regarding how to make the roads and other means of access required to transport the beloved wine.

In the year 1892, a society was created regarding the quality control of Rioja wines. It was dubbed the Viticulture and Enology Station of Haro. During 1902, the proclamation to determine the origin of the wines of Rioja was created by a Royal Decree. About twenty years later in the year 1926, a regulating council (Consejo Regulador) was installed to limit the areas where the wine was produced as well as extending the warranty of the Rioja wine. The regulating council is also credited with having the authority to control the use of the word “Rioja”.

In the year 2008, a new logo was created and instructed to appear on all of the bottles of wine that were created under the designation of Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) by the Regulatory Council for the La Rioja Denomination of Origin. The old and longstanding logo was traded for a more modern style of logo being described as having clean lines and brighter colors in an attempt to attract the recent younger generation of wine connoisseurs. The other reason behind the logo is to reverberate the fact that the winemaking policies and processes within La Rioja have become modern as well.

Geography

The Spanish wine region of La Rioja is situated to the south of the Cantabrian Mountains and alongside the Ebro River. The mountain barrier does affect the climate in what would be considered a desirable way. A large part of the La Rioja region is located upon a plateau which is raised about 1,500 feet (460 meters) above sea level.

The Spanish wine region is further separated into a total of 3 sub regions known as Rioja Baja, Rioja Alavesa as well as Rioja Alta. Both la Rioja Alta and la Rioja Alavesa are situated near the mountains which place them at higher elevations and in turn, they tend to have what is considered a cooler climate. The rainfall that occurs annually here is measured at an average of at least 20 inches, or 510 mm.

The third sub region, La Rioja Baja, is located in the southeast direction and as such, experiences a climate that is both warmer and drier. The average rainfall that typically occurs here is measured at 12 inches, or 300 mm per year.

Climate

Due to the Cantabrian Mountains, the province of La Rioja does typically experience a continental climate. It aids to moderate the climate of La Rioja by providing a buffer against winds and storms that the northern parts of Spain encounter often. This enables the area to be quite moderate which is considered beneficial to growing the wine grapes La Rioja is so famous for.

The Soils of La Rioja

La Rioja has a wide variety of soil and this creates challenges for the growers of the wine grapes to choose the correct types of grapes to grow within their vineyards. Even within one zone the soil is ranging from limestone near the hills to alluvial near the rivers. Sometimes, simply a distance of one kilometer can mean the difference of low nutrient soil or soils high in calcium carbonate which is normally associated with growing grapes of high quality. Clay can be good by keeping the temperature of the soil level, but then when it rains the roots become trapped in the humidity.

Wines and Wine Grapes of La Rioja

Each subregion located within the province of La Rioja has their own special style of wine. Rioja Alta, which is situated on the western point of the area, is at the highest elevation out of the three sub regions. This sub region is well known for the character of its wines being more of an old world taste. Due to the elevation, the wine grapes require a shorter growing season and as such the less ripe berries lend a more fruity flavor and aroma to the wine as well as are thought to be lighter in taste.

The Rioja Baja sub region experiences the Mediterranean climate which means this area is the driest and warmest of the three. Within the summer months, the droughts that sometimes occur can sometimes be a harshly dealt hand to the vineyards and the wine grapes they grow. However, in the later years of the 1990’s, irrigating the soils has been allowed. The summer temperatures normally go as high as 35 degrees Celsius, or 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Interestingly, some of the vineyards of Rioja Baja are really situated within the Chartered Community of Navarre which is an autonomous community located within the northern part of Spain. The wine grapes grown here on the vines are under the Rioja appellation. The normal hue of Rioja wines resemble a paler color while the Baja wines are darker in their colors and are usually higher in alcohol content. Some of the wines that Baja produces are as high as 18% alcohol by volume. Unfortunately, these wines do not typically contain very much fragrance and are low in acidity so they are mainly used to blend with other mixtures obtained from the vineyards of Rioja to create other wines.

Lastly, the Rioja Alavesa does share a very similar climate with the region of Rioja Alta, however the Rioja Alavesa’s wines tend to have a higher acidity and what is described as a fuller body. The vineyards in this sub area are planted with a low density and have larger spaces between them. This is because the soil here is considered poor and by planting the vines apart, there is less competition for the sparse nutrients.

The red wines of Rioja are separated into four categories. The “Rioja” is the youngest member and it spends less than a year aging within an oak barrel. The “crianza” is the red wine aged for at the very least two years time and at least one year is spent within an oak barrel. The “Rioja Reserva” spends at least three years aging and again, at least one of those years is spent aging within an oak barrel. Lastly, the “Rioja Gran Reserva” wines are aged for at least two years within barrels of oak and then three years within a glass bottle. The Reserva and Gran Reserva wines are sometimes not produced every year.

If you are interested in buying wine online from a wine merchant, consider La Rioja fine wines. There are so many types of wine available, you are sure to find some highly praised wine bottles just for you.