Rioja is the (most) known wine region of Spain. Situated in the north. Most famous for big bold but elegant red wines. In general made from the Tempranillo grape but many others are used. I can still remember the first time I tasted Rioja.
The first time I was impressed by the wood flavours.
Mainly from the often used new American oak barrels at that time. Now you can see more different styles. Rioja red wines are in general sold in 4 types of wines. Joven (young wines) with no or a little oak aging. Crianza with a minimum of 1 year oak and 6 weeks bottle aging (released after the third year) Reserva minimum of 1 year oak aging and 6 months in bottle and Gran Reserva with a minimum of 2 years oak aging and 2 years in the bottle. Next to these facts or rules producers have to follow, differences can be made.
Barrels and grapes make the difference among others.
First the grape. the leading grape of the Rioja region is the Tempranillo almost 75 % of the vineyards are devoted to this vine. Other grapes that may be used are Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana tinta. All with their own characteristics to make great Rioja wines. Garnacha to give aroma and body. Graciano (Grape to look out for, on a revival) for acidity and polyphenolic content. The Mazuelo or better known as Cariñena, Cencibel or Carignan Noir, that gives the wine tannins, colour and acidity and last and less known Maturana. That is famous for its purple colour and bringing in some flavours. Flavours like peppers, balsamic and spice.
Back to the wood that I tasted.
Now it’s not that general any more.
The use of oak barrels changed. Although to be official Rioja producer you have to have 50 oak barrels of 225 litres. Rioja is protected through the whole process of winemaking by the control board. Strict rules are to be followed. Different styles are here. In the classic style oak is still present but more and more on the back. The modern style wines give you more and more reflections of the fruit.
One region different soils.
Rioja is divided in 3 subzones: Rioja Alta, Baja and Alavesa. And recently extra specific vineyards are added. In general there are some differences in soils and altitude. For example the different valleys that Rioja has. Soil types you can find are for example chalk clay and alluvial.
Conclusion there’s a lot more behind a wine then the label. And yes Rioja is famous for the red (90%) but some white and rosé wines are made here.
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