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Spanish Wine Regions-Rioja

Updated on December 5, 2012

Rioja Vineyards in Northern Spain

Rioja Vineyards
Rioja Vineyards

The vineyards and grapes of Rioja

Tempranillo Grapes
Tempranillo Grapes
Grenacha Grapes
Grenacha Grapes


Spanish Wine Regions - Rioja


When I started studying wine in the mid 1960s, I concentrated on the wines of France and Germany which were still reasonably priced. About the only Spanish wines that were readily available then were Sherries and I wasn’t that interested in fortified wines.


Living in Newburgh, New York, I soon became familiar with Sherry-Lehmann in New York City who carried wines from all over the world. I purchased a case of 1943 Rioja from Marquis de Riscal at a very low price but I was not impressed with it.


That is about my entire involvement with Rioja wines until very recently when the price and availability of Spanish wines have made them very attractive to me on my limited budget.


Rioja is one of 17 different geographic wine producing regions in Spain and it produces about 6% of all Spanish wine. Along with Bordeaux and Burgundy in France it produces some of the longest-lived dry red wines in the world.


Although some Rioja wines are very expensive, the overall quality of wine in this region continues to improve and there are still many bargains if you know what to look for. Here is a list of top ten things that you should know about the wines of Rioja:


1. Rioja produces about 250 million liters of wine each year, which is about 6% of Spain’s overall wine production. About 90% of it is red wine (tinto) with the balance either white (blanco) or rose (rosado).

2. The Rioja wine producing area is located in Northern Spain south of the Cantabrian Mountains along the Ebro River on a plateau which is about 1500 feet above sea level. In addition to the Autonomous Community of La Rioja, the grapes can also be grown in parts of Navarre and the Basque province of Alvara,

3. Rioja is further subdivided into three zones:

(a) Rioja Alta - Located on the western edge at the higher elevations it produces "old world" style wines which are somewhat lighter in flavor.

(b) Rioja Alavesa - Similar climate to the Alta region but the poorer soil produces fuller bodied higher acidic wines.

(c) Rioja Baja - Temperatures are typically warmer so the wines are deeply colored with higher alcoholic content up to 18%. These wines with low acidity and aroma are generally used for blending.

4. The principal red wine grapes of Rioja are Tempranillo and Granacha with lesser amounts of Mazuelo and Graciano. A typical Rioja might contain 60% Tempranillo, 20% Granacha with the balance of the blend made up of Mazuelo and Graciano. Viura (also known as Macabeo) is the principal white wine grape and is blended with some Malvesia and Granacha Blanca.

5. The earliest written evidence of wine making in La Rioja dates back to 873 but it actually began much earlier. The King of Navarra and Aragon first legally recognized Rioja wine in 1102. In 1926, the Consejo Regulador (Regulating Council) was created and began controlling the use of the name "Rioja". In 1991, La Rioja became Spain’s first Denominacion de Origen Calficada (DOCa).

6. Influenced by Bordeaux, oak aging was introduced in Rioja in the early 19th century. In the past, the red wines of Rioja were aged in cask as many as 15-20 years prior to being released. Today, it is common to age them only 4-8 years. Even white wines used to be aged 2-5 years in oak giving them a slightly oxidized taste. Things are better now.

7. The red wines of Rioja have four classifications:

  1. Rioja – These wines are oak aged for less than one year.
  2. crianza – Aged for at least two years, at least one of which was in oak.
  3. Rioja Reserva - Aged for at least three years, at least one of which was in oak.
  4. Rioja Gran Reserva – Aged at least two years in oak and three years in the bottle. These wines are not necessarily produced every year.

8. Wineries in Spain are commonly called bodegas and this term can also be used to describe a wine cellar or warehouse. The Rioja wine industry is dominated by local family vineyards and cooperatives that buy the grapes and make the wine. Recently, there has been more emphasis on making estate-bottled wines.

9. Rioja wine labels generally contain the following information:

  1. The Producer
  2. When the Bodega was founded
  3. The location where the wine was made
  4. The Vintage
  5. The Origin
  6. DOCa
  7. Sometimes also the grape varieties used

Added information in Spanish is usually provided in a label on the backside of the bottle. I have provided a link, which contains more detailed information.

10. Rioja wine vintages vary in quality from year to year so that you really need to consult a vintage chart. I have provided a link to Robert Parker’s vintage wine chart, which is a good place to start. In general, you should buy only recent vintages when buying white wines and you should buy older red wines only if they have been stored properly. Vintage charts are really only an overall assessment of the wines produced in a given region in a particular year. You should always taste a bottle if possible before buying a case


Rioja Wine Regions

Rioja Wine Classifications

Rioja Wine Grapes

Rioja Wine Region in Spain

Rioja Wine Region
Rioja Wine Region

The Rioja Wine Region is just south of the Basque City of Bilbao

show route and directions
A markerMadrid, Spain -
Madrid, Spain
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B markerBarcelona Spain -
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
get directions

C markerLisbon, Portugal -
Lisbon, Portugal
get directions

D markerLogrona, Spain, in the Rioja wine Region -
Logroño, Rioja, Spain
get directions


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    • profile image

      Minerva 2 years ago

      Absolutely loved it I learnt a lot, both about the wines thlveesmes and their regions and the way they are grown and produced. Six high quality yet affordable wines per week, a lot of which were just sublime (and information as to how to lay your hands on more of the same i shall certainly be doing this!), excellent notes to refer back to in the future and all delivered in a professional yet amiable style by Hugo, who really knows his stuff. Oh, and i agree with Aisling great snacks too!I look forward to future courses!

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      Piotr 2 years ago

      I thoroughly remencomd this course to both wine connoisseurs and novices alike. I was definitely a novice myself at the beginning of the course, and I loved learning about and tasting the lovely wines every Tuesday evening. Hugo is incredibly knowledgeable, whilst being very patient in explaining things to those of us with less tasting experience I have learnt:A) to slow down my drinking;b) pay much more attention to what I am drinking, andc) now feel much more confident in choosing a mid-range bottle of wine from the supermarket to go with my dinner.I miss the course now it’s finished! Look forward to future courses.

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      2patricias 5 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      I love Rioja wines! This hub is simple, but very informative.

      I totally agree with your advice that one should always taste a bottle before buying a case. Many wine sellers offer tasting days - sometimes these are free. These events are fun, and educational.