What is Rioja?
Rioja is a wine region in North-Central Spain, known for its incredibly age-worthy reds, rich full-bodied whites...and oddly, white asparagus as well. It holds the highest quality designation allowed in Spain, the Denominación de Origen Calificada or DOCa status, which only one other region holds (Priorat)! Pretty big deal. Rioja can be broken down into three subregions, each with its own personality:
Rioja Alta: Sits at a higher elevation with cooler daily temps, hence producing a more elegant style. Mostly planted to Tempranillo. Seen as highest quality area.
Rioja Alavesa: The middle. Similar quality to Rioja Alta, tend to be fuller-bodied.
Rioja Baja: The flatlands. Planted to mostly Garnacha and other blending varietals (Graciano, Mazuelo). Ripe, powerful reds.
Is all Rioja RED?
Nope! Although a fair amount are produced from the red grapes of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo. Rioja also produces spectacular, thought provoking whites as a well as bit of Rosado (rosé). Whites are made from the Viura and/or Malvasia grapes and tend to be fuller bodied, round waxed honeycomb, almond and citrus types. They have a tendency to be aged in used oak, which only enhances their profile and ageability by introducing a bit of oxygen into the game. Great example would be the 2003 R.Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva (the 2003 is the Bodega's current release of that wine if you can believe it). For those who shy from the richer styles of white, there area few Rioja producers that make a cleaner style...CVNE Monopole is 100% Viura and all stainless steel, light and fresh. The Rosados are fruit forward on the nose and always bone dry; try CVNE 'Cune' Rosado.
Crianza? Reserva? Gran Reserva? Whaaaaat?
You will almost always see one of the above designations on a bottle of red (and sometimes white) Rioja. It refers to the minimum ageing requirements. Keep in mind these are MINIMUM requirements...many producers hold their wine much longer before release. Fun fact: if Rioja stopped producing wine today, they have enough wine in barrel to satisfy demand for up to 4 years. The only other region in the world that could do that is Champagne!
Joven: Bottled in their first year, no oak, young- zippy fresh.
Crianza: Minimum 1 year in barrel and 1 year in bottle; accessible, high quality every day drinking
Reserva: Minimum 1 year in barrel and 2 years in bottle; gets serious,between fruity Crianza and aged Gran Reserva
Gran Reserva: Minimum 2 years in barrel 3 years in bottle; best grapes, more tannin and structure meant to be aged.
Moderna vs Traditional?
Refers to two different winemaking styles found in Rioja.
Traditional: employs used American oak, has a shorter maceration period. Think elegance and finesse. Meant to be aged.
Moderna: uses new French or Hungarian oak. Smoother/rounder style, more intense and concentrated. Big structure with firmer tannins.
What producers should I be looking out for?
Where do I begin?! Some of our favorites: Bodegas R. Lopez de Heredia sits very near and dear to our hearts here at Ancona's. C.V.N.E and La Rioja Alta are also on our list of faves. If you are looking to pop something open on a Tuesday night, try the Kodenor Maddi Crianzas. Tintos, Blancos, and Rosados...we've got them all.
Have any other unanswered questions? Shoot me, an email or stop by and see us!
All the best.
Holly Phillips CS, Asst. Wine Director