Rediscover Rioja and Its Phenomenal Wines
Tucked away in the northern part of Spain not too far from the Atlantic coast and the French border you can find one of the Iberian Peninsula's most esteemed wine regions – Rioja.
Rioja is one of only two Denominación de Origen Calificada or DOCas in Spain (the other being Priorat). This singles it out as one of the premier winemaking regions in the country. And it should come as no surprise that the wines are real beauties.
The Rioja Rundown: Regions & Grapes
Rioja has three subregions, Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja, and Rioja Alavesa. Many producers choose to blend grapes from across these different areas although these days, it's becoming more popular amongst winemakers to focus on a specific subregion.
The need to know grapes for Rioja include Tempranillo, Garnacha tinta (aka Grenache), Mazuelo (also known as Carignan), and Graciano for reds, and Viura (or Macabeo outside of Rioja), Malvasia, and Garnacha blanca. All of these varieties do well in the moderate maritime climate of Rioja which leads to consistently excellent vintages. Sure, Rioja is mostly known for its wickedly good reds, but this sunny Spanish region also produces fantastic rosados (or rosés, if you prefer) and white wines.
One thing to note as far as white Rioja is concerned – much like Chardonnay, it can either be oaked or unoaked.
The Basics of Rioja's Ageing Classifications
Think of Rioja ageing classifications as a pyramid. Taking the young Joven wines out of the equation, the ageing pyramid starts with Crianza which sees the shortest amount of time in new oak barrels. Next comes Reserva which is aged longer, followed by Gran Reserva, which sees the longest time in oak barrels of all. The exact regimens look a little like this:
- Crianza – reds minimum 2 years including 1 year in barrel; whites and rosés 2 years including 6 months in barrel
- Reserva – reds minimum 3 years, including 1 in barrel; whites and rosés 2 years including 6 months in barrel
- Gran Reserva – reds 2 years in barrel plus an additional 3 years in bottle; whites and rosés aged in barrel and bottle for four years.
As you might expect, the longer a wine has been aged in Rioja, the higher a price tag it'll fetch. The good news? There are great deals to be found at every rung. Crianzas are generally budget-friendly and offer great value. While there's a jump to Reserva, there are some wonderful steals to be had, wines which are full of flavour and character and be picked up at a reasonable price. Naturally, it's true that Gran Reserva Rioja will require you to shell out a few more dollars than either Crianza or Reserva, but that doesn't mean that there isn't fantastic value to be found at this level.
If you're a serious wine lover or perhaps even a wine collector, this is definitely the category you should familiarise yourself with. Red Rioja of any ageing category is brilliant with roast lamb, pork, and hard aged cheeses. It's a delicious option for chorizo and if you're a fan of a barbecue, Rioja will definitely be a winner whether you're sipping on reds or rosados.
You can treat a barrel aged white Riojas like an oaked Chardonnay. These styles hold up to richer dishes like chicken, meatier fish, pork, and a choice lobster. Unoaked white Rioja is a winner with seafood paellas, light fish dishes, and salads. In short, if you're looking for great wine that will be a hit amongst your group or are simply in the mood for a flavourful wine you can enjoy with dinner, Rioja has you covered.