Improvements in the vineyards of Rioja are mirrored in
the winery. harvesting
A new generation and sorting fruit,
of oenologists are carefully fermenting separately by to not over-extract while
still eliciting good else, preserving an
color, concentration, and, authentic sense of terroir.
above all They use
of freshness, that permits
depth of color, intensity of flavor, and structure aging with unobtrusive tannins that allow early
However, what distinguishes
winemakers from their counterparts elsewhere
these Riojan is their deep
respect for and use whenever possible.
of traditional wine-making processes, Despite the high cost of French oak,
they increasingly flavors imparted
prefer it to the
vanilla and balsamic And, perhaps most
shocking, they often forgo the traditional gran reserve classification in order to gain
crianza-reserva- the freedom to
choose the oak treatment which best suits the particular (and vintage) they happen to be working with.
The selection of fruit begins on the vine, with mid-summer’s green harvest to focus the vine’s energy on a few select bunches and ends on the sorting table. The treatment of the picked fruit varies with its special qualities. At Muga, for example, grapes for ordinary crianzas are transported in large wagons, while those destined for the top cuvees (Prado Enea, Torre Muga, and Aro) are packed in small, 20 kilo containers transported from field to winery in refrigerated trucks. Remirez de Ganuza takes this one step further and stores harvested grapes in refrigerated warehouses while waiting sorting and pressing. The sorting process also differs with the quality of grapes, with double-sorting for the very top cuvees of wineries like Artadi and Sierra Cantabria, first by grape clusters and again by individual grapes after destalking.
Wineries producing good quality crianzas at affordable prices cannot employ such costly selection and sorting. However, even they do their picking by hand as the bush vines throughout much of the region do not lend themselves to automated harvesting. Sorting aside, there are, of course, significant variations in the quality of the grapes themselves. As noted earlier, small to medium sized wineries having personal relationships with contracted growers can exert a high degree of quality control over the vineyard, but this is more challenging for large wineries and wine-producing cooperatives. One option, demonstrated at Rioja’s largest cooperative, Viñedos de Aldenueva, which has 850 members, is to take a sample of grapes delivered by a grower, subject it to an extremely rapid fermentation, and then chemically analyze its acidity, alcohol level, color, etc., resulting in a quality index that determines the price paid to the grower.
Gravit , Fermentation, Racking and Assemblage,
Rioja’s winemakers are employing a variety of techniques to produce wines that are fresh tasting, balanced and age- worthy. In addition to careful handling and selection of fruit, the top wineries are using gravity wherever possible in the winemaking process to transfer grapes to destemmers and crushers and then to steel tanks or 8000 liter “tinas” for
fermentation, and later to barriques for these wineries are employing more
In addition, methods of
crushing and pressing grapes to avoid resulting from roughly crushed seeds example, Artadi and some other wineries under foot in open fermenters.
still crushe grapes
Winemakers are experimenting with a variety of fermentation techniques. The use of native yeasts is now commonplace. For the top cuvées, several wineries have built small fermenters to permit the separate fermentation of fruit from different parcels prior to assemblage. Some have as many as 16 to 20 different small fermenters. Others are using open wooden vats and avoiding pump-overs to protect
Most malo is done in late winter, but Muga trys
to do malo in Spring following harvest (April-May). Jorge
Muga believes that and softer process,
the warmer climate allows for a longer
that contributes to color and flavor
transferring wines from one barrel to another by six months or so, using a spigot and starting with moon in January.
hand every the first full
Oak and Bottle Aging
Rioja wineries are famous the world over for their enormous quantities of barrels and bottles of aging wine. It is not uncommon to find tens of thousands of barrels and hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine resting in underground cellars.
Traditionally, the quality of Rioja wine has been marked by the designation crianza-reserva-gran reserve on its
label. More than quality reflects how
anything else, this traditional mark of much time wines were aged in oak and before the introduction of steel tanks,
wines were fermented for twelve, twenty-four,
large vats, or tinas, aged in oak thirty-six months, and then aged
in bottles for additional months or were considered ready for release.
The Rioja DOCa regulations require the use of 225 liter barrels for aging wine. The regulations also limit the use of a barrel beyond ten years- a relatively long time for barrel use-
so that all crianzas have at least an acceptable minimum
of oak contact. In Rioja winemakers commonly use new barrels for an initial six months and then transfer the wine to two-and three-year old barrels or older for further aging of