Tag Archives: Rioja Alavesa

South by South-East (Rioja, Spain – Day Four)

It’s funny how everyone’s concept of quality is different. In New World wine-producing countries the only laws and restrictions we have on our wines relate to labelling, whereby if we label our wines as being from a variety, region and/or vintage, they must be a minimum level (e.g. a minimum 85% in Australia). This doesn’t mean we have to use these minimums, we can always not indicate any of these things on the label. In Europe on the other hand, most of the wine regions and countries have established sometimes complicated systems and laws governing viticulture and wine production to maintain and in some cases guarantee quality. Take the Rioja Denominacion de Origen Calficada (DOCa, the only one in Spain not including the Priorat DOCQ) for example. The classification relates to red wines, and limits the maximum yield per hectare to 6.5 tonnes, and only allows tempranillo, graciano, garnacha tinto and mazuelo. There are then four quality designations that are determined based on the barrel and bottle ageing, from the young/Joven wines, to Crianza (minimum one year in oak, total two years before release), Reserva (minimum one year in barrel, total three years before release), and Gran Reserva (minimum two years in barrel, minimum three years in bottle). This comes back to my initial comment, that quality is partly subjective and somewhat controversial, as many producers forego the system in favour of less oak ageing, and they would be considered far superior in quality compared to others. Simply labelling a wine as Gran Reserva is no indication of quality at the end of the day. Like any wine (or product for that matter) regardless of origin , all you can do is trust the producer, but unfortunately you can’t tell the quality of a wine when it is the bottle.

Above Rioja Orientale vineyards near Alfaro

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What’s the deal? (Rioja, Spain – Day Three)

Despite the fact that the Rioja region only runs for about 130 km, it is an unbelievably diverse region geologically and climatically, not to mention the fat that it actually crosses three political regions of La Rioja, Basque and Navarra. The region follows the Ebra River and which sits between the Cantabrian Mountains to the northeast and another range to the South-West, and has a wide valley ideal for the cultivation of a range of agricultural products. The climate is quite interesting, as it is a combination of Atlantic, Mediterranean and Continental. They are protected from rain coming from the north so it is very dry, and as they have cool air sucked up the valley from the Mediterranean so it is relatively cool at night. The micro-climate depends on a number of factors, including elevation, aspect and soil, the latter of which varying significantly from alluvial, to calcareous, to clay, limestone and chalk. The fact that most wine in Rioja is blended from a great range of these individual terroirs means that you are losing a lot of the nuances, but luckily there are estates like the three I visited today who are focusing on village and single vineyard wines in the future.

Rioja Alavesa as depicted by an artist that lived at Remelluri

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