Rioja’s winemakers have traditionally used four main red
Graciano and Mazuelo. from Viura and Malvasia.
White wines are mainly produced In recent years, some winemakers
have begun to experiment with other Consejo Regulador has approved the
grapes and the
of several new
white wine grapes.
Tempranillo is king in Rioja.
It represents 78% of all
grapes planted in the region. Wines of Ribera del Duero,
As noted in Report #8 The Tempranillo is also widely
planted throughout the rest of Spain and takes on different characteristics in different regions. As Jorge Muga has noted “there are as many Tempranillos as there are soils.” Tempranillo takes its name from the Spanish word temprano meaning early, referring to its ripening ahead of other varieties. However, in the cooler growing areas in Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa , Tempranillo is usually harvested in mid-October and produces wines with good acidity and structure. In the warmer areas, such as in Rioja Baja, Tempranillo ripens faster and produces wines that are on the jammy side and somewhat high in alcohol. In Rioja Baja, Tempranillo has slowly replaced Garnacha Tinta as the dominant grape, although some say that Garnacha is
Garnacha Tinta also has a long history in Rioja both
It was once widely grown, especially in Rioja
but was uprooted in favor of Tempranillo and today
only represents 11% of the total of grapes planted in Rioja vineyards. Garnacha Tinta is difficult to grow in most of the higher altitudes of Rioja as it flowers late and has difficulty maturing. On the other hand, it does well in Rioja Baja’s warmer Mediterranean climate. Many winemakers have a renewed interest in it, mainly for young wines since it is
highly oxidative and doesn’t age well.
Graciano, a native Spanish variety, is being used more and
more as a blending grape with Tempranillo.
acidity and some say even aroma.
Graciano was popular
years ago, plantings.
but today it represents only 2% of total vineyard While it adapts well to all climates, it fell out
susceptible to disease.
In Rioja, a number of winemakers
like Jesus Madrazo of Contino are passionate about Graciano
and bottle it as a single variety wine.
Mazuelo is used as a blending grape with Tempranillo.
It offers wonderful color and acidity and also adds a fresh floral component. It buds and ripens late so is best suited for warm climates. It is difficult to manage, and yields need to be kept below four tons per acre. It is also expensive to grow and is susceptible to odium.
Viura is Rioja’s main white wine grape. It is widely used in
making whites, but still only represents 7% of total vineyards. Viura can produce fresh tasting white wines that are crisp
Malvasía Riojana, an indigenous grape,
to provide aromatics
Some producers most notably Abel
are also producing wines from Garnacha Blanca.
There is some limited interest in Rioja in experimenting with other red and white grapes, but most winemakers appear to be more interested in producing better wines with the major classical grape varieties. Some Maturana Tinta is grown at Finca Valpiedra (4 ha) and Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in the vineyards of Marques de Riscal, by exception. However, the Consejo has basically not permitted the use of new red varieties. On the other hand, in the interest of stimulating the production of white wines considered more marketable than Viura, the Consejo has sanctioned the use of white grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo. However, currently there is little evidence of interest by producers in these grapes.
In the Vineyard
The top winemakers in Rioja today are members of a chorus singing the same tune, which is that continued improvements in the quality of the wine will come from the vineyard. This emphasis on the vineyard lies behind the increasingly popular practice of producing estate wines in Rioja.
Traditionally, Rioja winemakers purchased most their grapes or fermented juice from cooperatives and from independent, small winegrowers scattered throughout the region. This practice is the product of tradition and necessity, as there are few winemakers who would not prefer to directly manage their own vineyards, if they could purchase them. In the absence of being able to manage their own vineyards, winemakers are Increasingly defining every detail of vineyard management in their contracts with growers in an efforts to get the highest quality fruit possible.
The practice of purchasing grapes from numerous growers is the result of inheritance laws which divided family vineyards into increasingly small parcels with the passing of generations, such that today most vineyards are less than one hectare in size. Winemakers can purchase several small vineyards to produce their own grapes, but managing large numbers of widely dispersed small parcels is both costly and logistically difficult. The options are to try to assemble small plots into larger parcels, find new locations where land is still available to do new plantings, or contract with the owners of small parcels for the delivery of their harvest.
High end boutique wineries like Roda or Finca Allende own and manage small, widely dispersed parcels of old vines of special terroir. The prices their special wines command in the market permit them to absorb the costs of this practice. With his background in real estate, Fernando Remirez de