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Let's talk about Rioja!
Yes, in the previous post we said there's more, but let's face it: ask anyone to name a Spanish wine and at least 90% will choose Rioja. So let's discover a little bit more about this D.O.Ca. wine from the northern region.
The name Rioja probably comes from a river flowing through the area, the Rio Oja. This wonderful area bears certain similarities to it’s French near neighbour, Bordeaux, which lies two hundred miles further north. Rioja vineyards cover over 50,000 hectares (one hectare = 2.47 acres). There are around six hundred vineyards spread through three main vineyard areas: Alta is at the highest altitude and is usually considered the finest, then Alavesa and Baja which usually makes the fullest wines.
Both Bordeaux and Rioja make excellent wines though Bordeaux is undoubtedly the better known and rightly so. Nevertheless, Rioja is constantly improving and, who knows, one day may be held in similar regard. The principal grape varieties of Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, are beginning to be planted in Rioja but are unlikely to ever replace the indigenous grapes: Tempranillo and Garnacha which, with a little help from Mazuelo and Graciano, are responsible for the soft, rounded character of Rioja.
The main difference, however, is the use of oak which softens and ages the wine and makes blind tasting and identifying Rioja so much easier. There are four main grades of Rioja:
- The basic wine with little or no oak ageing is sold simply as “Rioja”.
- Wine classified as Crianza must have at least one year in barrel plus another year in bottle before it is sold.
- Reserva wines have at least one year in barrel plus two years in bottle while the top grade,
- Gran Reserva has two years in barrel and at least three in bottle.
Rioja also makes some white and rose. The whites are made using the Viura grape (also known as Macabeo) and are best consumed young (the wine not the drinker!). Some Rioja can be quite expensive but still represents good value – especially when compared to it’s French competitor. One should also consider Rioja’s close neighbour, Navarra, which is even more fantastic value.
More of this another time!