Learn About Rioja Wine From Spain | Wine 101 - VinePair - Tasters.wine

Learn About Rioja Wine From Spain | Wine 101 - VinePair

The traditional vocation for excellence of Rioja wines has allowed them to consolidate their prestigious image among consumers and make them the benchmark in terms of quality for Spanish winemaking, both with their more classic style wines, whose unique aging qualities are admired by consumers around the world, and with a new generation of innovative wines.

Gran reserva Spanish wine

La Rioja DOCa has managed to remain at the forefront of winemaking innovation with a great diversity of wines with a distinct personality, which have underpinned its success in the markets and have placed it among the elite of the historic European appellations of origin. Today, the "Rioja" brand is one of the five most renowned among the most prestigious wine regions in the world.

Wine production areas in La Rioja DOCa

Rioja Alta

La rioja gran reserva

Rioja Alta is the westernmost area of the DOCa Rioja to which belong numerous localities that, under the influence of the Atlantic climate and on a wide variety of soils ranging from clay-limestone, clay-ferrous and alluvial. Drag behind them great stories full of emotions and feelings that over time have allowed them to become one of the main wine tourism references worldwide, among many other riches, it is home to the largest concentration of century-old wineries in Europe, the path of the language with the monasteries of Yuso and Suso, located in the town of San Millán de la Cogolla and a World Heritage Site, or one of the most special stages of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James).

Rioja Oriental

Rioja Oriental is the area of the DOCa Rioja located in the easternmost part of the region. Its geographical conditions, as well as the Mediterranean climatic influence and the soils of the area, formerly known as the Rioja Baja sub zone, make it a privileged land for the development of vines.

red wines from rioja

In addition to its well cared for wines, this area stands out for its exquisite gastronomy, based above all on vegetables from the orchard, which is usually accompanied by a good local wine. In addition, Rioja Oriental has a great itinerary of cultural museums scattered throughout its territory: examples of these are its incredible production and cultivation of mushrooms, being the municipality of Pradejón the one that produces more mushrooms at national level. About culture, the Museum of the Culture of Oil, located in Préjano, which exposes in great detail the history and evolution of one of the most useful products, used and marketed since time immemorial.

The culture of wine is closely linked to the character of the towns in the area, where the values of wine, its inhabitants, art and activities related to wine and gastronomy make everyday life in the Eastern Rioja a must in towns such as Alfaro, Aldeanueva, Azagra, Calahorra and Viana.

Rioja Alavesa

Rioja Alavesa is the area of the DOCa that extends over a little more than 300 square kilometers in the south of the province of Alava, on the north bank of the Ebro River, on predominantly calcareous clay soils located in terraces and small plots and an Atlantic climate, dry and sunny.

wine region

It is made up of 18 municipalities that give it an incomparable beauty through all kinds of wine tourism resources, which, present in the natural environment and providing a great tourist and economic value to the area, manage to merge with an innovative architecture and very well seen and highlighted in a large number of historic buildings and wineries. With the passage of time, have managed to carve out a name for themselves in history and surprise anyone who looks up and observes the majesty and splendorous of a land made naturally for both the production of young wines and their aging in barrels, giving them their own unique characteristic aromas that perfectly represent the values of what Rioja Alavesa is all about.

Grapes in La Rioja


In Rioja, through the experience accumulated over centuries by winegrowers and winemakers, certain preferred grape varieties have been selected for the production of most of the region's wines. Thus, in 1925, the Regulations established by the Control Board of the Denominación de Origen Calificada, La Rioja already contemplated the exclusive use of 7 grape varieties in the production of La Rioja wines. These traditional varieties were Tempranillo, red Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano -used to make red wines- and Viura or Macabeo, Malvasía and Garnacha blanca -mostly used to make Rioja white wines-. In 2007, in order to improve the competitiveness of the region's wines, while maintaining their identity and prestige, another 7 grape varieties were included as permitted for making DOCa Rioja wines. These would be 3 native red varieties: Maturana tinta, Maturana parda and Monastel; 3 native white varieties: Maturana blanca, Tempranillo blanco and Turruntés de Rioja; and 3 white varieties not native from Rioja: Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay and Verdejo. The use of these last varieties in the production of La Rioja wines would be limited in order to maintain the identity of the wines of this land.

Red varieties grape in Rioja


This native grape of Rioja is the preferred variety in the production of DOCa Rioja red wines. It is the most representative grape of the region and its cultivation accounts for 75% of the total vineyard area in Rioja.

The tempranillo grape has different names depending on the region, in Ribera del Duero it is known as 'Tinta Fina', in Castilla la Mancha as 'Cencibel'. It is also called Tinta del país, Tinta de toro, Ull de Llebre, etc.

Tempranillo grape

Red Garnacha

This variety of Spanish origin is the native red grape of our country that is most widely grown in the rest of the world. In the Rioja region, its cultivation accounts for 18% of vine production.


There is evidence of the cultivation of this variety in Rioja for several centuries, but today it occupies only 3% of the surface area of the Denomination. It is more productive than other red varieties, particularly sensitive to powdery mildew and needs more heat to ripen.

Spanish wine


Graciano is an autochthonous variety not very widespread in other areas, whose proven complementarity with Tempranillo for aging has made it a variety of the future for Rioja, where the area under cultivation has increased considerably in recent years, although without reaching the prominence it had before phylloxera.

White varieties grape in Rioja

Viura or Macabeo

Viura is the preferred variety for the production of white wines in Rioja, accounting for approximately 15% of the vineyard surface area in the region. Of Spanish origin, its production is greater than that of the traditional red varieties.

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The production of the Malvasia variety represents only 0.25% of the region's vine crops. Originally from Western Asia, this variety has been cultivated in Spain and Europe for centuries. There are different types of Malvasia in the world, but they are not considered similar to Malvasia from Rioja.

Garnacha blanca

It is the variety which occupies the least surface area of all those authorized in Rioja and may come from a mutation of Garnacha tinta. This variety is very similar in its oenological behavior to the red Garnacha (alcoholic wines rich in extract, but lacking in aroma and acidity), grown in cool areas it produces a pleasant wine with good acidity.

Rioja Wines

Native red varieties grape in Rioja

The red Maturana and Parda Maturana are not grown anywhere else in the world and its cultivation is of great interest to increase the originality, differentiation and diversity of Rioja wines. DNA analysis seems to relate it to the Castets variety, which has practically disappeared in France, its country of origin.

Red Maturana has a small, compact cluster and small berries. Very sensitive to botrytis, bud break is late, but ripening is early. In terms of wine parameters, its color intensity and anthocyanin content are high, it has high acidity and a medium probable degree. In the sensory analysis, its violet red color stands out; aromas of typical varietal vegetal character, with a predominance of green bell pepper and also balsamic and spicy aromas; structured palate in which the acidity and astringency stand out, with medium persistence.

Aging wine in Rioja region

According to the traditional aging process followed, Rioja wine is divided into four categories, differentiated by the four types of back labels or numbered seals that the Control Board awards to those wines that have passed its quality and tipicity controls:

what is rioja wine


This category guarantees the origin and vintage of the wine. They are usually wines in their first or second year, which preserve their primary characteristics of freshness and fruitiness. This category may also include other wines that do not fit into the Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva categories, even if they have undergone aging processes, as these are not certified by the Control Board.


A Roble wine is a young wine that has been slightly aged in oak barrels. These wines are aged between 3 and 9 months in oak barrels, depending on the winery.


Crianza wines are wines at least in their third year that have remained at least one year in oak barrels. For white wines, the minimum aging period in oak barrels is 6 months.


Corresponds to highly selected wines with a minimum aging period between oak barrel and bottle of three years, of which at least one year in barrel followed by a minimum aging period of 6 months in bottle. In white wines, the aging period is 2 years, of which at least 6 months in barrel.

Gran Reserva

These are wines from large vintages that have been aged for a total period of sixty months with a minimum of two years in oak barrels and two years in the bottle. In white wines the aging period is 4 years, of which at least 6 months in oak barrels.

Types of Rioja wines

In a process of continuous improvement, the DOCa Rioja has enriched its current offer and incorporates new indications alongside the traditional barrel-aged wines, its main stronghold.

Thus, since 2017, in Rioja we find wines that cater to the origin of these giving rise to different origins according to the terroir itself. The aim is to value the singular origin, recognize its diversity and continue to establish qualitative requirements that guarantee the quality of its wines.

gran reservas

The new geographical indications respect and complement the traditional and successful range of wines made by blending and are added to the traditional aging categories that identify and give prestige to Rioja wines, offering consumers around the world an unparalleled sustained quality.

They will undoubtedly contribute not only to enhancing the value of the terroir and recognizing its diversity, but also to increasing the prestige of the Appellation and enriching its goodwill.

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