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The interesting facts about Rioja

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

In Rioja they started very early with the production of wine. It was not the Romans but the Phoenicians who were the first to take the thirsty steps towards viticulture in this region. The altitude, the funnel shape of the Ebro valley and the clay-limestone soil make this wine region ideally suited for wine growing.

Oak barrels Rioja Reserva Wines

The first commercially operating bodega was founded in Rioja in 1852. Around the same period, large parts of French vineyards were completely destroyed by Phylloxera. French wine growers crossed the Pyrenees en masse to either buy grapes or to simply start all over again as a wine grower once they discovered that Tempranillo was a very good grape with a lot of potential. The Phylloxera devastation in France partly contributed to the fact that the Rioja as a wine region conquered an important place on the international wine market around 1890.

When the French finally found a way to prevent Phylloxera at the end of the 19th century, many returned to their home country. Not a moment too soon because by hat time the Phylloxera had also found its destructive way to the Rioja. The little creature ensured that the "golden age" of Rioja was brought to an abrupt end. Only after joining the EC and the introduction of modern techniques did Rioja regain its fame as a wine region.

Classic Rioja wines were very rustic wines with a lot of "wood". The modern wine drinker however prefers more fruit, more freshness and less "wood". To meet the changing tastes of consumers, the style of its wines has been modernized. This has led to more fruity, fresher wines with subtle wood tones. You could say that this new style Rioja actually brings out the qualities of the Tempranillo grape much better.

So aren’t there other grapes being used for their wines?

Tempranillo is certainly the most commonly used grape for red wines but there are indeed other permitted grapes. A typical Rioja wine consists of approximately 60% Tempranillo, a maximum of 20% Garnacha and smaller amounts of Mazuelo and Graciano. The Tempranillo grape forms the core and gives the wine the opportunity to further develop and mature. Garnacha gives the wine more "body" and alcohol. Mazuelo (Cariñena) contributes to robustness, releases herbal aromas and ensures that compositions with this grape can age well. Graciano adds other pleasant aromas.

For their white wines, Viura (Macabeo) is the most commonly used grape. It is usually mixed with Malvasía and Garnacha blanca. The Viura makes wines fruity and gives good acidity, Garnacha gives the wines "body" and Malvasía adds aroma. The Rosados from Rioja ​​are usually made from Garnacha.

Are there different areas within the region of Rioja?

Like in most wine regions Rioja also is devided in sub regions that all have their own style. Next time you buy a nice bottle of Rioja for yourself try and find out which of the three Rioja regions your bottle is from and discover your favorite style.

Rioja Alavesa: great local variation in soil compesition and there are microclimates. The vineyards are located between 400 and 800 meters altitude. The area produces elegant, fresh wines that are often slightly lighter in color than their counterparts from other regions.

Rioja Alta: the soil consists of both calcareous clay and alluvial soils. The vineyards are located between 400 and 700 meters altitude. The further southeast you travel, the warmer and drier it becomes. The wines from this area do not have any really specific characteristics, but generally speaking it produces old style Rioja’s.

Rioja Baja: the soil consists mainly of river clay, often with a high iron content. The vineyards have an average elevation of 300 meters altitude. The climate is warmer and drier. This area generally produces the strongest Rioja wine.

When choosing a wine from Rioja are there other things to look out for?

Every winelover has a style they prefer. Some like wines that are aged on wooden barrels while others prefer their wine real fresh and young. It can be hard to find this information on the bottle as it isn't always directly noticable on the label. In Rioja however they kinda make things easy for you as every bottle clearly shows what type of Rioja you are drinking. Go explore them and find out your style.

Joven: wine that has never or very briefly been aged in wood. The wines can be marketed the year after harvest.

Crianza: matured for at least 12 months in oak barrels and then for at least 12 months in the bottle. For the white crianza, wood aging of at least 6 months is required and the wine can be marketed in the 2nd year.

Reserva: has matured for at least 12 months in oak barrels and then for at least 24 months in the bottle.

Gran reserva: matured for at least 24 months in oak barrels and then for at least 36 months in the bottle

Are there any good value wines from Rioja we can recommend?

There are so many good value Wines out there so the help you out we recently tasted several wines from the area and seleted a few for you.

Delicious Rioja WInes like Gran Dominio, Real Agrado and LAN Reserva from Wijnhuis West Amsterdam

Gran Dominio Reserva, Rioja, Spain 2016

Grape variety

The Reserva is primarily made of Tempranillo with a small percentage of Garnacha and Mazuelo. The wine ages for 6 months on American oak, 6 months on French oak and another 18 months in the bottle.

Tasting notes

A nice Reserva, cherry-red in colour with a hint of orange. Ripe, red fruit and vanilla in the nose. A surprising soft taste with a lot of fruit, cassis, blackberry and vanilla. This finish is long and balanced

Food pairing

Mushroom tapas Logrono Style, grilled steak

Real Agrado Reserva, Rioja, Spain 2017

Grape variety

Grapes coming from our Canterabuey, La Lobera and Rodiles estates, planted in 1975, 1992 and 1998: Clay chalky soils with alluvial rocks. Grape Varieties: Tempranillo (60%), Garnacha (30%), Graciano (5%) and Mazuelo (5%). Hand harvested grapes brought into the winery in small crates. Barrel Ageing: 18 months in 50% american oak and 50% in french oak, with rackings every four months.

Tasting notes

Ruby red colour with garnet hues. Aromas of ripe redberries with light notes of vanilla, chocolat, figs and prunes. Balsamic and mineral hues. Rounded in the palate with good structure and velvety and harmonious carácter. Long and persistent finish.

Food pairing

Perfect with stews, spiced dishes, legumes and cured cheeses.

Bodegas Lan Reserva, Rioja, Spain 2016

Grape variety

The Tempranillo and Mazuelo grapes in this blend come from Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. The grapes are selected from vines with an avarage age of 25 years. The wine ages in hybrid barrels (American oak staves and French oak heads) for at least 16 months, followed by 24 months in bottle.

Tasting notes

Bright deep garnet colour. Aromas of red fruits blended with notes of vanilla and spices. The mouth is structured, smooth and plummy with delicious backnotes of dried cherries and pomegranate molasses..

Food pairing

Grilled lamb chops with patatas bravas, stews, spiced dishes, legumes and cured cheeses.


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