Rioja

View of four bottles of Rioja showing the different styles.

Many people enjoy a good wine from the Rioja region of Spain but how many really understand the differences between the various styles?

Firstly the wines from the Rioja region are now labeled by its three official zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental (aka Eastern Rioja – originally called Rioja Baja)

In the UK the most popular wines are red although there are some great whites and roses that should be tried.

Map showing the Rioja region in Spain

The major grape variety used in red Rioja wines is Tempranillo but other varieties that can be used are Garnacha Tinta, Graciano and Mazuelo. The reds are known for their savoury, dusty flavours and ability to age. A typical blend is 60% Tempranillo 20% Garnacha with smaller proportions of the other varieties.

White wines are usually made from the Viura (Macabeo) grape which is usually blended with Malvasia and Garnacha Bianca. Rose wines are generally made from the Garnacha grapes.

Red Rioja’s distinctive characteristics come from oak aging which is why one can be totally different in taste to another. Most wineries tend to use American oak now. Roja red wines have four classifications.

The first normally labeled just as Rioja or Joven does not require any oak aging although some will have.

The second classification is Rioja Crianza

Red wines: Aged for a total of two years with at least one year in oak barrels. White and rosé wines: Aged for a total of two years with at least six months in barrels.

Rioja Reserva
Red wines: Aged for a total of three years with at least one year in oak barrels and at least six months in bottles.
White and rosé wines: Aged for a total of two years with at least six months in barrels.

Rioja Gran Reserva
Red wines: Aged for a total of five years with at least two years in oak barrels and two years in bottles.
White and rosé wines: Aged for a total of five years with at least six months in barrels.

Some of the best Rioja wines can be aged for twenty years or more.