Rioja: Land of wine
The rich history of Rioja
La Rioja region of Spain has been famous for its high-quality wine production for centuries. Winemaking began in this region in Roman times and has continued almost unbroken since then. The evidences from amphorae and other wine related materials show that the production flourished between third and sixth centuries. The earliest written document regarding existence of the grape in La Rioja dates back to 873. It is from the Public Notary of San Millan, dealing with a donation to the San Andrés de Trepeana (Treviana) Monastery. At that time, the monasteries owned vast areas of land and monks were the most experienced winemakers.
Production of wine decreased during the period of Arabs occupation of the Iberian Peninsula between 8th and 11th centuries. From Christian reconquest onwards, Rioja's wine production developed and increased steadily. In 1102, the King Sancho of Navarra and Aragon gave the first legal recognition of Rioja wine. The first document to protect the quality of Rioja wines dates back to 1650. In early twentieth century, the region faced the devastating phylloxera mite plunging the region's vineyards into decline. The region overcame the mites by the 1970s with some foreign help. In 1926, Rioja region established the first regulatory board and 'Denominación de Origen' was granted to Rioja wines. The regulatory board monitors and governs various aspects of production and trade of Rioja wines.
The Rioja regions
La Rioja region consists of three zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja is a part of Navarre and Rioja Alavesa is a part of Basque country. The region is located at south of the Cantabrian Mountains so it has a continental climate. The mountains provide shelter from the cold and protect the the region from fierce winds of northern Spain. It is significantly warmer and drier than just to the north. The region is also home to the Oja river (Rio Oja), name of the region originates to that of the river. Ebro river is also important for irrigation of the agricultural areas in the region. One of the distinctive characteristic of Rioja wine is the process of oak aging. Originally French oak was used but many bodegas use American oaks for of two reasons: French oak is more expensive than those of America and the American oak enables producers to catch a different aroma. Some wineries use a mix of American and French oak as well.
The Rioja wines are categorized according to their ageing time in oak barrels:
- Joven wines have no or less than one year of oak ageing
- Crianza wines must spend one year in barrel and one in bottle at minimum before sale
- Reserva wines are supposed to spend one year in barrel and two in bottle
- Gran Reserva wines are usually made of the best vintages when the fruit quality is high enough to age two years in barrel and three in bottle.
Regarding production range of wines in the different zones of the region, Rioja Baja produces fruity wines with higher alcohol content than the other two zones. Rioja Alta is the area known for reserva and gran reserva. White wines are also produced in this area. Rioja Alavesa is an area that produces young red wines.
Today la Rioja region has 57,000 hectares of grape cultivation and yielding 250 million litres of wine per year, more than 80% of which is red. Exports of the wine are directed mostly towards the European Union, United States and Canada.
Discover our Rioja wines here and indulge yourself in the flavour of their land.