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Geographically, this is probably the best-known wine growing area Spain The majority of the 62,000 hectares of vineyards are in the north-eastern Spanish province of La Rioja, but some of them are also in the provinces Basque country (Alavesa subzone) and Navarra (Parts of subzone Rioja Baja). The area has a very old wine-growing history. Numerous fermentation tanks hewn out of stone have been preserved, which are already used in winegrowing antiquity testify. The Guardaviñas occurring in Rioja Alta in Ábalos, Briones and San Asensio are typical. These dome-like stone structures were used as a refuge for winegrowers and their farm animals used in bad weather and for monitoring crops.

Rioja (Rioja Alta) - Guardaviña (refuge) and vineyard

The area of origin

The effort to origin -Designation and exquisite quality have a long tradition. As early as 1560, the winegrowers decided on a uniform brand for their barrels to guarantee the identity of the wines from this area. In 1635, the mayor of Logroño even banned the carriage of vehicles through streets with wine cellars. This was due to the concern that vibrations caused by vehicles could damage the grape spoil and impair the maturation process of the wines. The first written reference to one quality control dates from 1650. In 1787, the "Real Sociedad Económica de Cosecheros de Rioja" (Royal Business Association of Rioja Winegrowers) was founded to cultivate wine, winemaking and wine trade to promote. At the beginning of the 19th century, the custom of Batalla del Vino (Battle of Wine), this big city festival is still celebrated annually.

One of the Rioja pioneers was Marques Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga (1827-1888), who built a bodega based on the Bordeaux model at his winery in 1860 and vines from the Bordeaux planted. After phylloxera invasion In the middle of the 19th century, many French winegrowers emigrated to this area and gave French wine-making impulses. In 1902 there was a royal decree with the definition of the origin for the Rioja wines and a labeling rule. A control council founded in 1926 was given the task of limiting the Rioja area, monitoring the issuance of a “guarantee seal” and protecting the Rioja name.

In 1953, the Rioja Denomination of Origin Control Council was founded on the basis of organoleptic samples and analytical Studies check whether the wine meets the strict regulations. In 1991, a ministerial decree gave the Rioja region of origin the attribute "calificada" (qualified), making it the first highest Spanish quality level DOCa,

The name derives from the river Oja (Rio Oja). The over 100 km long area is located on both banks of the Ebro and on the slopes of the adjacent hills. The climate is mild, with a short summer and a beautiful autumn. The traditional form of education is the bush-shaped En Vaso ( gobelet ), but wire frame education is becoming increasingly popular. The huge Rioja area is divided into three subzones, which also differ in terms of soil conditions and wine quality; Rioja Alta is considered the best:

Rioja Alta
The 24,000 hectare vineyard zone with the city of Haro as a wine center is located south of the Ebro River and west of the provincial capital Logroño in the province of La Rioja. The climate is influenced by hot summers, mild autumns and cool winters under the influence of the Atlantic. The vineyards lie on sediment soils mixed with lime and iron-containing alumina. The dominant variety is Tempranillo, followed by Mazuelo and Graciano, all of which have slightly thicker and more extract-rich shells as in the other Rioja areas. The best quality Riojas are produced here. The full-bodied red wines with a high percentage of acids and tannins are ideal for barrel expansion and can be stored for a long time.

Rioja - Riojas Alta Briones

Rioja Alavesa
The 12,000 hectare zone is located entirely north of the Ebro River in Basque country, The climate is similar to that in Rioja Alta, limestone and clay soils predominate in the vineyards. The dominant grape variety is Tempranillo with a slightly thinner skin. Light, fruity and spicy red wines with medium alcohol and total acid content predominate here. They can be consumed as young wines, but are also suitable for barrel aging. As a rule, they are not as storable as those from Rioja Alta.

Rioja Baja
The 20,500 hectare zone east of Logroño extends over two autonomous provinces, namely Navarra (which is confusingly also a separate DO area) and La Rioja. In this warmest and driest zone there is a Mediterranean climate with less rainfall. The vineyards are mostly on iron-bearing clays with deposits. The dominant grape variety is the Garnacha Tinta. There are extract-rich, alcohol-rich red wines with an alcohol content of up to 15% vol, as well as rose wines. The aromatic and often early-ripening and usually young wines are not as noble as those of the other Rioja areas.

The grape varieties & types of wine

The most important and typical Rioja grape variety is Tempranillo With almost 28,000 hectares, it accounts for almost two thirds of the area under vines. The most common white variety is Viura ( Macabeo ) with 8,000 hectares. Around 75% of the Rioja is considered red wine generated. Quite a few people do not even know that there are other versions, because Rioja is usually associated with red wine. The rest is with 15% R oséweine and with 10% White wines, In contrast to the classic indigenous varieties, the “non-resident” Rioja varieties are not allowed to label be cited.

The red wine is made up of 80% Tempranillo with shares of Garnacha Tinta. Graciano and mazuelo, as well as the varieties allowed since 2007 Maturana Parda and Maturana Tinta ( Trousseau Noir ) pressed. White varieties are also permitted, but this is rarely practiced. That is a maximum of 5% Whole bunch maceration and a maximum of 15% Maceration carbonique, With special permission, too Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot be used. The red wines are almost exclusively dry, the rosé wine is also semi-sweet.

The white wine is made from Viura ( Macabeo ), Malvasia Riojana ( alarije ) and Garnacha Blanca, as well as varieties approved since 2007 Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc (total maximum 50%), Maturana Blanca. Tempranillo Blanco, Turruntés ( Torrontés ) and Verdejo vinified. It is also mostly dry-aged.

The former custom, the bottles with the traditional gold-colored wire mesh Alambrado Wrapping is now practiced by only a few producers.

The quality levels

The traditional, dominant winemaking is through a long Barrique minted in 225 liter American oak barrels. This results in wines with an almost brownish color, typical vanilla, Spice and lemon notes and soft tannins. The ripening times are minimum requirements, but many traditional bodegas extend this extremely. There are four categories depending on the maturation period in barrel and bottle:

Joven (youth = young wine): The young Rioja (in white, red and rosé) only bears the name “Garantia de Origen” and comes onto the market just a few months after the harvest. But it can also be matured or expanded briefly in oak barrels. These ready-to-drink wines are young to enjoy. The production share is 40%.

Crianza (Education = maturation): The red wines have to mature for at least 24 months, at least 12 months in the barrel and the rest in the bottle before they can be marketed. Rosé and white wines take 18 months (previously also 24), of which 6 months in barrels. The production share is 40%.

Reserva : The red wines have to mature for at least 36 months, of which at least 12 months in the barrel. For white wines, 24 months with at least six months in the barrel apply. Rosados (rosé wines) are not available as Reserva or Gran Riserva. The production share is around 15%.

Gran Reserva : The red wines have to mature for five years, two of them in the barrel. Some bodegas produce long-lasting white wines with six months in the barrel and 42 months in the bottle. The production share is only 3%.

The new quality terms

In 2019, the Consejo Regulador Rioja (Board of Directors) set new quality criteria. This is intended to strengthen consumer confidence in the Rioja brand. For this, new terms have been created that can appear on the label. These relate to the origin, the age of the vines, the expansion of the wines in terms of packaging and maturation time as well as production quantities. In future, the new terms are to be checked for further development every six months. All new terms are at the bottom of the label.

Viñas viejas : The wine must be made from 90% vines that are at least 35 to 100 years old

Viñas centenarias or Viñas prefiloxéricas : 90% of the wine must have been made from vines that are more than 100 years old (centenarias) or if they were planted before 1900 (prefiloxéricas = before phylloxera ).

Viñedos de altura : 90% of the wine must have been made from vines from over 550 meters above sea level.

Madurados en Bodegas (matured in the winery): Must only be used without references or pictures related to barrique, oak or wood. The terms "envejecido" or "aged" may not be used.

Ediciones or colecciones seleccionadas y limitadas (limited   Quantities): Here the producer must list the number of bottles produced and what the edition or collection refers to.

Viñedos en propiedad (producer's vineyard): A wine with at least 90% vines from our own cultivated vineyards. The producer must have managed the sites continuously for at least ten years.

Embotellados en la propiedad ( Erzeugerabfüllung ): The producer is also the owner of the brand.

Nuevas elaboraciones con lías / hormigón / tinajas de barro : The terms "lias" ( yeast ), hormigón ( concrete tank ) or "tinajas de barro" ( ceramics ) may be used without the addition "madurado" (matured).

Cosecha : When using this term, the vintage to be named.

Viñedos singulares : This should allow producers in the future, small ones for the first time areas of origin how Gemarkungen, Communities and vineyards to be shown on the bottle labels.

The producers

There are around 20,000 winegrowers, of which 98% only produce grapes and deliver them to large wineries or bodegas. The over 500 bodegas produce around three million hectoliters of wine annually, 40% of which is exported worldwide. Well-known producers are Alicia Rojas. Barón de Ley. Berberana. Bilbaínas. Bodegas Altanza. Bodegas Franco Españolas. Breton Criadores. Campillo. Carlos Serres, Castillo de Fuenmayor, Corral. CVNE. Domecq Bodegas. El Coto de Rioja. Faustino. Finca Allende. La Rioja Alta. López de Heredia. Luis Cañas (Bodega Amaren), Marques de Caceres. Marqués de Griñón. Marques de Murrieta. Marques de Riscal. Marques de Vargas. Martínez Bujanda. Monteabellón. Montecillo. Muga. Ontañón. Paternina. Primicia. Puelles. Ramón Bilbao. Remírez de Ganuza. Riojanas. Roda. Telmo Rodríguez. Torre de Oña. Viña Salceda. Viñedos de Aldeanueva. Viñedos del Contino. Viñedos y Bodegas de La Marquesa and Winner wines,

Guardaviña: By Patricia Maine Degrave from Pixabay
Vineyard: By Pradillacarlos on Pixabay
Briones: By Emilio García from Parla, Spain - Viñedos , CC BY-SA 2.0 , Link

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