miércoles, 15 de agosto de 2012

Rioja Grape Varieties


The red tempranillo variety is the basic grape used in riojan wines. In turn, it has become the most reputable and charateristic spanish grape to be used in viticuture. The D.O.C. Rioja incluedes other grape varieties.

Some experts have raised the alarm: the increasing success of the Tempranillo grape is detracting from the previously fantastic range of grapes to be found in Rioja. The great quality of its wines and the way it adapts perfectly to the soil and climatic conditions in Rioja are the reasons for its success. At the moment, 70 % of the 60,000 hectares under vine that is protected by the D.O.C. Rioja is dedicated to growing Tempranillo. In Rioja itself, this figure is slightly less and represents only about 65 % of the 42,180 hectares under vine that the D.O.C Rioja covers in the region.

- Tempranillo: A red grape that supposedly has similar origins as the Pinot Noir variety. It is or of the most extensively cultivated grapes in Spain, since it is used for production in areas such as Ribera del Duero, Cigales, Toro and the southern meseta. It covers 27,533 planted hectares in La Rioja, and is easily the most popular variety in the region. It performance is medium rate (depending on the strain used), and adapts very well to the abundant clay soil in Rioja Alta. Nevertheless, its greatest weakness is that it is susceptible to oidium. The resulting wines boast a rich, intense colour, and a characteristic bouquet of fruits of the forest (black¬berry). In the mouth, it develops a very balanced flavour. The wines are well-structured and show good laying down potential.

- Garnacha: For a long time, this was the most important grape in La Rioja, but its popularity slumped and today it represents barely 18.4 % of the region's vineyard. It abounds throughout the Ebro basin, from Rioja Alta to the Catalan regions. Another growing area lies in the west of the Castillian meseta, in Vinos de Madrid, Mentrida and Cebreros. Until recently, it was reputed as being poorly suited to ageing, despite the fact that many classic Rioja wines contained a reasonable percentage of this grape. It is a very rustic variety, capable of withstanding the most adverse conditions, and it produces a high yield when conditions are favourable. It is affected by mildew, botrytis and flower discharge. It produces fresh wines, full of body and laced with fresh fruit aromas and, depending on where it is grown, floral overtones.

- Mazuela: This is the Riojan name for the Cariñena grape. Even though it is more resistant and rustic than the Garnacha, and can withstand even harsher conditions (as seen in the driest hillsides in Priorato, for example), it was virtually eradicated from its original vineyards, the Cariñena vineyards in Aragon and Campo de Borja. The main reason for this was that it is susceptible to oidium, and has difficulty in maturing in high, cooler ground since it is clearly a Mediterranean variety. When conditions are favourable, it produces high yields. Similar to the Garnacha grape, Mazuela was also considered inappropriate for long ageing periods. Nevertheless, the most classic wines include a percentage of Mazuelo that adds vigour (the wines have high acidity levels) and a complexity of mineral and floral aromas. Today it represents 3.2 % of the La Rioja vineyard.

- Graciano: This is another local variety found in the middle of the Ebro Valley. It is a lesser known grape but, recently, producers have started to look at it more closely. Over time, two different arguments have evolved, both for and against: the most traditional oenologists confirm that it gave light-hearted appeal to the wines that were left to for a long time; the producers on the other hand, coined the phrase "¿Graciano?. Gracias, no" to express their total lack of faith in this grape. According to them, it was too hard to cultivate. It is, in fact, a difficult grape, with a low yield and a long cycle that makes it hard to mature it, and therefore a risky crop. Its meagre presence in the vineyard (3543 hectares, which is about 0.84 % of the La Rioja vineyard) is a stark contrast to its very obvious presence, albeit theoretical, in the varietal formulae indicated by wineries. It adds an even colour, acidity and tannin (and is presented as an alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon). It also gives the wines a very personal, spicy aroma.

- Viura: This is the most characteristic white grape throughout the Ebro basin. In Catalonia, it is known as Macabeo, where it is the basic ingredient in cava production. For a while, cultivation was boosted and in the traditional Rioja vineyards, it was not unusual to see two or three rows of Viura planted at the front of Tempranillo vineyards. This was considered to add a touch of finesse to the wine. In fact, it nearly always caused problems because its cycle is even shorter than the Tempranillo grape, and it is very susceptible to mould, as well as mildew and oidium. On the other hand, it produces a very generous yield. Out of the three white varieties in Rioja, this is the leading grape, representing just over 95 % of white varieties. This is equivalent to approximately 11.3 % of the whole La Rioja vineyard. Its wines have a very discreet aroma (reminiscent of apples), and definite body.

- Malvasia Riojana: Apparently it has nothing to do with the Mediterranean or Canarian Malvasia, except its name, but it is related to the Castillian version and the Catalan Subirat Parent variety. It is a very traditional grape in La Rioja and was primarily used for making classic whites that required long barrel and bottle ageing. Today, however, these wine types are hardly seen. Instead, the grape is used for sparkling wine production. Curiously enough, it is the sparkling wine producers (several Riojan villages are included in the D.O. Cava) who own most of the Malavasia monovarietal vineyards. The variety only covers less than seventy hectares, under 0.15 % of the La Rioja vineyard. Its wines have a distinct bouquet and marked acidity levels. It is a good complement to the shortcomings of the Viura grape.

- Garnacha Blanca: This is another white variety native to the Ebro basin. It appears to be a variation of the red Garnacha according to the experts, it has nearly all the same varietal traits, except the skin colour. It has two downsides: firstly it is considered unsuitable for ageing, owing to its tendency to oxidise, and secondly it is even thought to be inappropriate for sparkling wines, due to its alcoholic volume. Despite its high yields, which are actually better than the red Garnacha, and its greater resistance, it has not managed to win over the Riojan growers. As a result, it is registered in only 28 hectares. This means that it is little more than a marginal variety (representing less than 0.07 % of the total vineyard surface area in La Rioja). It produces energetic wines, with body and warmth, and a curious aroma reminiscent of scrubland.

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