in a southeasterly direction. As Rioja stretches out along the Ebro, its climate changes from being predominantly Continental to more Mediterranean. The diverse climatic influences of rainfall, temperature and hours of sunlight along with changes in soil and altitude give Rioja its many terroirs. (See Map of Rioja in Annex 1)
The Rioja DOCa includes three distinct regions— Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja—which have, respectively, 43%, 21%, and 36% of total vineyard plantings in the DOC. The Rioja Alta is on the west
Castillo de Cuzcurrita in Rioja Alta Photo: Miguel Reinares
side of the Ebro and lies entirely within the region of La Rioja. The Rioja Alavesa is located north of the river and Rioja Baja is to the east.
Lying in the foothills of the Cantabrians, both the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa share similar characteristics in terms of altitude, soil, and climate. Both enjoy an Atlantic climate with mist, fog and cooling showers, especially for the foothill vineyards. Most of Rioja’s high altitude, cool climate vineyard sites are located here, with accompanying problems of frost
and seasonal hail.
Rioja Baja, located further south along
the Ebro, includes part of the region of Navarre. It has a hot, semi-dry Mediterranean climate and vineyards of lower average altitude. With a flat valley floor and lots of sun, grapes grow easily in Rioja Baja, although producing high quality grapes with good acidity, low alcohol and good phenolics can be challenging.
Rioja has various microclimates for growing grapes and, as noted, a heterogeneous terroir. There are three major soil types in the Rioja region: clay and limestone (with gravel sub-soils), clay and ferruginous, and alluvial . These soils types are distributed throughout the region, although there are concentrations of clay and limestone in Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa and alluvial soils in Rioja Baja. The clay and limestone soils with their gravel sub-soils facilitate root penetration of vines and provide good drainage. The differences in terroir and microclimate within the Rioja DOCa are reflected in the grapes grown and the wines produced. Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa favor Tempranillo, while Rioja Baja favors Garnacha, which does better in its warm, dry climate.
Rioja’s Classification System
Rioja was declared Spain’s first official Appellation of Origen Denominación de Origen (DOC) in 1926. With this declaration, Rioja’s borders were carefully delineated and to this day only wine made from grapes grown in that delineated Rioja region (and since 1992, only wine bottled in that geographic area) may be called Rioja on the label. In 1988, Spain’s wine law was amended to include a superior level
Calificada) and in 1991 Rioja became the first region to be elevated to a DOCa. Currently,
Spanish wine Priorat is the
only other region wine regions like status.
with this elevated Ribera del Duero
status, although other may soon win DOCa
The overall legislative framework for Rioja and Spain’s wine regions is the Ley Estatal de la Viña y el Vino [ Law of Vineyard and Wine] of 2003. Under this law,
other State Rioja
and other wine regions are governed by their own Consejo Regulador [Regulatory Council] The Consejo regulates all aspects of wine production and sale for the region. For example, Rioja’s Consejo approves the quantity of grapes which may be produced per hectare of vineyard, the grape varieties and quantities of each which may be used in the Rioja blend, and many other aspects of viticultural and winemaking practice. All wines entitled to the DOC status also bear the Consejo’s official, numbered back label, called
The Rioja Consejo comprises wine producers, growers,
merchants and Governmen Department of Agriculture.
t representatives from the In 2004 Rioja took the
unprecedented step of creating an inter-professional body (the OIPVR) which is independent of the local department of agriculture, and now controls production, marketing, and other important functions formerly under the Consejo’s jurisdiction. The purpose of this move was to ensure that quality control was being emphasized as much as regulation. The Consejo in Rioja now functions essentially as an enforcement agency. Important recent changes in the Rioja wine regulations, including the addition of grapes allowed in the blend, can be attributed to the OIPVR.
Like other wine categorizes wines Spanish wine law, ageing categories:
Rioja’s classification system
by age and as applied in
drinkability. The Rioja, provides for
wines without oak ageing that are now classified as Joven (previously called “Sin Crianza”). Oak ageing has been the cornerstone of Rioja winemaking since the French wine trade
were use quality of
in Rioja as elsewhere a wine, not its aging.