miércoles, 29 de octubre de 2014

Rioja Wine Masterclass with Pedro Urbina


Thursday 16th October 2014 - Rioja Wine Masterclass 7.30-10.30pm(ish) at The Angel Hotel, High Street, Market Harborough.

Rioja [ˈrjoxa] is a wine region, with Denominación de Origen Calificada (D.O.Ca. Qualified designation of origin) named after La Rioja, in Spain. Rioja is made from grapes grown not only in the Autonomous Community of La Rioja, but also in parts of Navarre and the Basque province of Álava. Rioja is further subdivided into three zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. Many wines have traditionally blended fruit from all three regions though there is a slow growth in single-zone wines.


The harvesting of wine in La Rioja has an ancient lineage with origins dating back to the Phoenicians and the Celtiberians. The earliest written evidence of the existence of the grape in La Rioja dates to 873, in the form of a document from the Public Notary of San Millán dealing with a donation to the San Andrés de Trepeana (Treviana) Monastery. As was the case in many Mediterranean lands in mediaeval times, monks were the main practitioners of winemaking in La Rioja and great advocates of its virtues. In the thirteenth century, Gonzalo de Berceo, clergyman of the Suso Monastery in San Millán de la Cogolla (La Rioja) and Spain's earliest known poet, mentions the wine in some of his works.

In the year 1063, the first testimony of viticulture in La Rioja appears in the "Carta de población de Longares" (Letter to the Settlers of Longares). The King of Navarra and Aragon gave the first legal recognition of Rioja wine in 1102. In 1560, harvesters from Longares chose a symbol to represent the quality of the wines. In 1635, the mayor of Logroño prohibited the passing of carts through streets near wine cellars, in case the vibrations caused a deterioration of the quality of the wine. Several years later, in 1650, the first document to protect the quality of Rioja wines was drawn up. In 1790, at the inaugural meeting of the Real Sociedad Económica de Cosecheros de La Rioja (Royal Economic Society of Rioja Winegrowers), many initiatives as to how to construct, fix, and maintain the roads and other forms of access for transportation of wine were discussed. The Society was established to promote the cultivation and commercialisation of Rioja wines and 52 Rioja localities participated.

In 1852, Luciano Murrieta created the first fine wine of the Duque de la Victoria area, having learned the process in Bordeaux. In 1892, the Viticulture and Enology Station of Haro was founded for quality-control purposes. In 1902, a Royal Decree determining the origin of Rioja wines is promulgated. The Consejo Regulador (Regulating Council) was created in 1926 with the objective of limiting the zones of production, expanding the warranty of the wine and controlling the use of the name "Rioja". This Council became legally structured in 1945 and was finally inaugurated in 1953. In 1970 the Regulations for Denominación de Origen were approved as well as Regulations for the Regulating Council. In 1991, the prestigious "Calificada" (Qualified) nomination was awarded to La Rioja, making it Spain's first Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa).

In 2008, the Regulatory Council for the La Rioja Denomination of Origin created a new logo to go on all bottles of wine produced under this designation. From now on bottles of wine from the La Rioja Qualified Denomination of Origin will no longer bear the familiar logo. In an attempt to appeal to younger wine-lovers, the long-standing logo will now be replaced with a brighter, more modern logo with cleaner lines. The aim is to reflect the new, modern aspects of wine-growing in La Rioja without detracting from the traditional wines. In theory, the new logo represents a Tempranillo vine symbolising “heritage, creativity and dynamism”. Consumers should start seeing the labels in October 2008. The Joven from 2008, Crianza from 2006, Reserva from 2005, and Gran Reserva from 2003 being released this year should bear the new label, in theory.


Located south of the Cantabrian Mountains along the Ebro river, La Rioja benefits from a continental climate. The mountains help to isolate the region which has a moderating effect on the climate. They also protect the vineyards from the fierce winds that are typical of northern Spain. The region is also home to the Oja river (Rio Oja), believed to have given the region its name. Most of the region is situated on a plateau, a little more than 1,500 feet (460 m) above sea level. The area is subdivided into three regions - Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja. La Rioja Alavesa and la Rioja Alta, located closer to the mountains, are at slightly higher elevations and have a cooler climate. La Rioja Baja to the southeast is drier and warmer. Annual rainfall in the region ranges from 12 inches (300 mm) in parts of Baja to more than 20 inches (510 mm) in La Rioja Alta and Alavesa. Many of Rioja's vineyards are found along the Ebro valley between the towns of Haro and Alfaro.


The three principal regions of La Rioja are Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja with each area producing its own unique expression of Rioja wine. Most of the territory subjected to the Rioja Protected designation of origin is in the La Rioja region, even though their limits do not coincide exactly. There is a narrow strip in the left bank of the Ebro river lying in the southernmost part of Álava included in the La Rioja wine region, whereas the south-southwestern part of the La Rioja region is not a part of this Protected designation of origin.

- Rioja Alta: Located on the western edge of the region and at higher elevations than the other areas, the Rioja Alta is known more for its "old world" style of wine. A higher elevation equates to a shorter growing season, which in turn produces brighter fruit flavors and a wine that is lighter on the palate.

- Rioja Alavesa: Despite sharing a similar climate as the Alta region, the Rioja Alavesa produces wines with a fuller body and higher acidity. Vineyards in the area have a low vine density with large spacing between rows. This is due to the relatively poor conditions of the soil with the vines needing more distance from each other and less competition for the nutrients in the surrounding soil.

- Rioja Baja: Unlike the more continental climate of the Alta and Alavesa, the Rioja Baja is strongly influenced by a Mediterranean climate which makes this area the warmest and driest of the Rioja. In the summer months, drought can be a significant viticultural hazard, though since the late 1990s irrigation has been permitted. Temperatures in the summer typically reach 35 °C (95 °F). A number of the vineyards are actually located in nearby Navarra but the wine produced from those grapes belongs to the Rioja appellation. Unlike the typically pale Rioja wine, Baja wines are very deeply coloured and can be highly alcoholic with some wines at 18% alcohol by volume. They typically do not have much acidity or aroma and are generally used as blending components with wines from other parts of the Rioja.


Rioja is a privileged region for growing grapes and making top-quality wines, with a unique personality and an exceptional aptitude for ageing. The Rioja wine region is located in northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The local terrain perfectly delimits the region and sets it apart from surrounding territories. From an administrative point of view, however, its 63,593 hectares of vineyards are divided between three provinces on the Upper Ebro - La Rioja (43,885 ha), Alava (12,934 ha) and Navarre (6,774 ha).

One hundred kilometres separate Haro, the westernmost town, from Alfaro, the easternmost. The valley has a maximum width of about 40 kilometres, covered in vineyards which occupy successive terraces to an altitude of about 700 metres above sea level. With few amendments in the last thirty years, the DO's Regulations list 144 municipalities (118 in La Rioja, 18 in Alava and 8 in Navarre) which hold "the lands that the Control Board considers suitable for producing grapes of the necessary quality."

The whole area benefits from the confluence of two distinctly opposed climates -Atlantic and Mediterranean- which provide mild temperatures and an annual rainfall of slightly above 400 l/m2 -ideal conditions for growing grapes. The Regulations recognise the existence of three sub-areas with distinct vitivinicultural characteristics. In Rioja Alavesa there is a significant influence of the Atlantic climate and the soils are chalky-clay situated in terraces and small plots. In Rioja Alta the climate is also mainly Atlantic, while the soils are chalky-clay, ferrous-clay or alluvial. Rioja Baja has a drier, warmer climate, thanks to the Mediterranean influence and the soils are alluvial and ferrous-clay.

The characteristic soils of Rioja are also the most suitable for quality viticulture, as they have a balanced structure (sand, silt, clay), are slightly alkaline, have a poor organic content and moderate water availability in the summer. The wine region has many different soils -chalky-clay, ferrous-clay and alluvial being the main ones- and microclimates -depending on vineyard orientation, protection against wind, etc.- that provide the wines with unique traits. This, together with the use of different grape varieties and growing practices, allows local winemakers to make a wide range of wines with a different personality, although always within the framework of a perfectly-recognisable common identity.

In order to optimise wine quality, the Regulations of the D.O.Ca. Rioja set maximum allowable yields which are 6,500 kilograms per hectare for red grape varieties and 9,000 kg/ha for white grape varieties. The wine region's annual production currently stands at 280 to 300 million litres, of which 90% is red, the rest being white and rosé.


Rioja wines are normally a blend of various grape varieties, and can be either red (tinto), white (blanco) or rosé (rosado). La Rioja has a total of 57,000 hectares cultivated, yielding 250 million litres of wine annually, of which 85% is red. The harvest time for most Rioja vineyards is September–October with the northern Rioja Alta having the latest harvest in late October. The soil here is clay based with a high concentration of chalk and iron. There is also significant concentration of limestone, sandstone and alluvial silt.

Among the Tintos, the best-known and most widely used variety is Tempranillo. Other grapes used include Garnacha Tinta, Graciano, and Mazuelo. A typical blend will consist of approximately 60% Tempranillo and up to 20% Garnacha, with much smaller proportions of Mazuelo and Graciano. Each grape adds a unique component to the wine with Tempranillo contributing the main flavors and aging potential to the wine; Garnacha adding body and alcohol; Mazuelo adding seasoning flavors and Graciano adding additional aromas. Some estates have received special dispensation to include Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend due to historical inclusion of that grape in their wine that predates the formation of the Consejo Regulador.

With Rioja Blanco, Viura is the prominent grape (also known as Macabeo) and is normally blended with some Malvasía and Garnacha blanca. In the white wines the Viura contributes mild fruitness, acidity and some aroma to the blend with Garnacha blanca adding body and Malvasía adding aroma. Rosados are mostly derived from Garnacha grapes. The "international varieties" of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have gained some attention and use through experimental plantings by some bodegas but their use has created wines distinctly different from the typical Rioja.

Some of the most sought after grapes come from the limestone/sandstone based "old vine" vineyards in the Alavesa and Alta regions. The 40 year plus old vines are prized due to their low yields and more concentrated flavors. A unique DO regulation stipulates that the cost of the grapes used to make Rioja must exceed by at least 200% the national average of wine grapes used in all Spanish wines.


The experience of grape growers and wine makers has resulted in a selection of those grape varieties that best adapt to the region’s climate and soils, while producing wine of the highest quality. This historical process has now been complemented by the innovative drive of the wine industry, always on top of market evolution and demands.  This led to the approval of new grape varieties in 2007 for the first time since the Designation was created in 1925. The primary goal behind this is to achieve greater competitiveness in white wines and to bring diversity to wine production while maintaining the wines’ identity and differentiation.

The grape varieties that are currently authorised by the Regulations of the D. O. Ca. Rioja are:

. Red: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo y Maturana Tinta.
. White: Viura, Malvasía, Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Maturana Blanca, Turruntés, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc y Verdejo.

- Tempranillo: Considered native to Rioja, it is the wine region’s most typical grape. It is the origin of the identity of its wines and one of the great grape varieties in the world. It occupies more than 75% of the region’s vineyards and it is very versatile from an oenological viewpoint. It is capable of producing wines that can withstand long ageing periods, with a good balance of alcohol content, colour and acidity, and an honest, smooth, fruity mouthfeel that turns velvety as it ages.

Regarding its agronomic performance, it sets well but is highly sensitive to pests and disease and not very resistant to drought or high temperatures. Its name comes from the Spanish “temprano” meaning “early” and it does in fact ripen quite early. There are varying degrees of similarity with the various varieties that are purportedly the same as Tempranillo de Rioja. This ranges from almost complete similarity in the case of Cencibel, Tinto de Madrid, Tinto del País and Tinto Fino to more distant resemblances such as Tinto de Toro and Ull de Llebre. Tempranillo is currently widely planted across Spain because of its proven quality. It is an authorised grape variety in no less than 28 designations of origin, of which 12 consider it as their main variety or one of the preferred varieties.

- Garnacha Tinta: This grape variety native to Spain is the most extensively grown variety in the world . In Rioja, it complements the Tempranillo with its aromas and body. With good extract and alcohol content, its wines vary depending on environmental conditions (temperature) and tending practices (production). In warm areas, it produces the kind of wine that has given it its reputation as a rugged grape but in cool areas it produces very interesting, well-balanced wines, particularly rosés. Prone to coulure, this is nonetheless a hardy plant, able to withstand periods of drought, and also fairly resistant to pests and major vine diseases such as rust mites and powdery mildew; hence its popularity among growers. Synonyms found in ampelographic collections around the world include: Abundante, Alicante, Cannonaddu, Cannonaddu Nieddu, Cannonao, Cannonau Selvaggio, Canonazo, Carignane Rosso, Garnaccho Negro, Garnatxa País, Gironet, Granaccia, Granaxa, Grenache Rouge, Lladoner, Retagliad Nieddu, Rivesaltes, Rousillon Tinto, Rousillon,  Tinto Aragonés, Tinto Navalcarnero, Uva di Spagna.
- Graciano: Graciano is an indigenous grape variety and its cultivation is very limited in other areas. Shown to be an excellent complement to Tempranillo in the ageing process, this grape has a promising future in Rioja, where its planted surface area has increased significantly in the last few years, although it has yet to reach pre-phylloxera figures. It requires clay-limestone soils and a cool climate. It is fairly resistant to mildew and powdery mildew, with low fertility rates and late maturing. It offers wines with a marked acidity and polyphenolic content, ideal for ageing, with a unique aroma that is much more intense than those of other varieties in Rioja. Synonyms found in ampelographic collections around the world include: Bastardo Nero, Bordelais, Cagnolale, Cagnovali Negro, Cagnulari, Cagnulari Bastardo, Cagnulari Sardo, Caldaredou Caldarello, Cargo Muol, Couthurier, Graciano Tinto, Gros negrette, Minustello, Morrastel, Tinta do Padre Antonio, Tinta Miuda, Tintilla, Xerez, Zinzillosa.

- Mazuelo: There is evidence that this grape variety has been grown in Rioja for several centuries, but today it barely covers 3% of the wine region’s vineyards. It is more productive than other red varieties, albeit particularly sensitive to powdery mildew and needs more heat summation to mature. Although short on flavours, it produces wines with abundant tannins, high acidity and stable colour, all of which makes it a good complement to Tempranillo for wines to be aged for long periods. In the rest of the world it is mainly known as Carignan Noir, given its French origin. Other synonyms include: Babonenc, Bois Dur, Boue Duro, Cagnolaro Tinto, Carignan Mouillan, Carignano, Cariñena, Catalan, Cencibel, Crujillon, Crusillo, Girarde, Legno duro, Manuelo Tinto, Mataro, Mazuelo, Mollard, Monestel, Plant de Ledenon, Roussillonen, Samso, Samso Crusillo, Sopatna Blau, Tinto Mazuela, Uva di Spagna.

- Matutana tinta: It has small compact clusters and small berries. It is very sensitive to botrytis, with late budburst but early ripening. As for the wine parameters, it has high colour intensity and anthocyanin content, high acidity and medium alcohol content. Sensorially, it stands out for its purple colour, typical varietal aromas of green peppers with balsamic and spicy notes, a well-structured mouth with notable acidity and tartness and medium persistence. It is not grown anywhere else in the world, making it a very interesting grape to support the uniqueness, differentiation and diversity of Rioja wines.

- Viura: The main white grape variety grown in Rioja, it is more productive than the red varieties and offers fruity wines with floral aromas and a remarkable acidity, making ideal for both young and aged whites. Oak-aged whites are traditional in Rioja, a practice that has been expanded in the last few years to include the fermentation of the must in barrels with its lees. Better known in Spain as Macabeo, the synonyms most frequently quoted are Alcañón, Forcalla, Gredelin, Lardot, , Macabeu, Queue de Renard and Rossan.

- Malvasía de Rioja: There are many Malvasias in the world, but they are not considered synonyms of Malvasía de Rioja, which has an outstanding potential for producing top quality whites. The clusters are a reddish yellow and produce a very interesting, unctuous, intensely aromatic wine. The only internationally accepted synonym is Sibirat Parent, but in Rioja other names are used which make reference to the reddish hue of the skin in ripe grapes, such as Rojal, Blanca Roja and Blanquirroja.

- Garnacha Blanca: It is the variety that occupies the least surface area among authorised Rioja grapes. It may well come from a mutation of red Garnacha. It has very similar characteristics to the red Garnacha (alcoholic wines with significant extract but little aroma and acidity). Grown in cool areas, it produces pleasant wines with good acidity. Alicante Blanca, Garnacha, Grenache Blanc and Sillina Lanc are the synonyms found in ampelographic collections.

- Tempranillo blanco: This variety comes from a natural genetic mutation from a single cane of a red Tempranillo vine , located in 1988 in an old vineyard in Murillo del Río Leza (La Rioja). The clusters are loose and medium-sized and the berries are also medium-sized and slightly flattened. Despite late budding, veraison and ripening come quite early. The total acidity remains high, with marked malic acid content. Its wines have a high concentration of volatile compounds with fruity aromas. Its wines offer excellent sensorial characteristics, just like the red Tempranillo. They are yellow-green with characteristic intense aromas of bananas and citrus and tropical fruit, underscored by floral and terpene notes. Well-balanced mouthfeel with structure and medium-long persistence. It is not found anywhere else in the world.

- Matutana blanca: It is the oldest grape variety known in Rioja, mentioned as early as 1622. It is quite a fertile variety with small clusters and small, elliptical berries. It has also proved to be precocious in all phases of development. It has the disadvantage of being particularly sensitive to botrytis. The most notable characteristics of Maturana Blanca are its low pH and high acidity, with significant tartaric acid content and low potassium content. These aspects compensate for the high alcohol content that can be reached with this variety. Sensorial assessment results are positive. Maturana Blanca wines have been described as greenish-yellow, with fruity aromas of apples, bananas and citrus fruits, and herbal notes. Light yet balanced on the palate, with tangy sensations and a slightly bitter finish of medium persistence.

- Turruntés de Rioja: The name Turruntés often leads to confusion with the Galician variety Torrontés and it has nothing to do with the grape variety grown in Argentina. According to DNA tests, the only similar variety would be the Albillo Mayor found in Castile-Leon. The cluster is medium-sized and compact, with medium-sized, spherical berries. Those with greater sun exposure may acquire a golden colour with dark spots. It features early budding and ripening. Low alcohol content and high acidity, with a low pH and significant concentration of tartaric acid with low potassium content. The wine is described as pale yellow with greenish hues, having fruity aromas with dominating notes of apples, with a vegetal, grassy nature. Light on the palate, acidy and slightly bitter, with medium-short persistence.


- Chardonnay: It is the world's most popular variety, equivalent to Cabernet for red wines, the most widely-grown grape for quality white wines across the world. Originally from Burgundy, it is also known as Morillon blanc, Beaunois and Weisser, although Chardonnay is by far the most international version. The vine is not very productive, with small- to medium-sized clusters, which produce yellow wines with green hues of outstanding finesse and aromatic intensity. Significant dry extract and low oxidation levels make this an ideal variety for barrel ageing.

- Sauvignon blanc: It is part of the international cast of quality white wine grapes, considered the finest variety among French white grapes after Chardonnay. It has very small clusters; compact and winged, with a very short peduncle. It has small, spheroid berries with skins of medium consistency and a greenish-yellow colour. Its pulp is quite consistent and intensely aromatic. The leaves are small, orbicular and bulky. The underside of the blade is fluffy and forms balls. It produces elegant, dry, acidy wines.

- Verdejo: A grape native to the D.O. Rueda, it is the Spanish white variety that has undergone the greatest development. It has small clusters, with a visible peduncle and medium-small, short, elliptical berries, with a thick, green-yellow skin and a greenish pulp. The leaves are orbicular and a somewhat shiny dark green. The aromas and flavours of the Verdejo wine has nuances of herbal scrubs, with fruity hints slightly sweetened by a powerful alcohol content offset by an excellent acidity. The extract is perceptible from its volume and its characteristic bitter touch, which projects a flash of originality in the mouth, accompanied by great fruit expression.


A distinct characteristic of Rioja wine is the effect of oak aging. First introduced in the early 18th century by Bordeaux influenced winemakers, the use of oak and the pronounced vanilla flavors in the wines has been a virtual trademark of the region though some modern winemakers are experimenting with making wines less influenced by oak. Originally French oak was used but as the cost of the barrels increased many bodegas began to buy American oak planks and fashion them into barrels at Spanish cooperages in a style more closely resembling the French method. This included hand splitting the wood, rather than sawing, and allowing the planks time to dry and "season" in the outdoors versus drying in the kiln. In recent times, more bodegas have begun using French oak and many will age wines in both American and French oak for blending purposes.

In the past, it was not uncommon for some bodegas to age their red wines for 15–20 years or even more before their release. One notable example of this the Marqués de Murrieta which released its 1942 vintage gran reserva in 1983 after 41 years of aging. Today most bodegas have shifted their winemaking focus to wines that are ready to drink sooner with the top wines typically aging for 4–8 years prior to release though some traditionalists still age longer. The typical bodega owns anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 oak barrels.

The use of oak in white wine has declined significantly in recent times when before the norm was traditionally 2–5 years in oak. This created slightly oxidized wines with flavors of caramel, coffee, and roasted nuts that did not appeal to a large market of consumers with some of the more negative examples showing characteristics of rubber and petrol flavors. Today the focus of white wine makers has been to enhance the vibrancy and fruit flavors of the wine.[8]

Some winemakers utilize a derivative of carbonic maceration in which whole clusters are placed in large open vats allowed to ferment inside the individual grape berries, without the addition of yeast, for a few days before they are crushed.

In the 1960s, Bodegas Rioja Santiago developed the first bottled version of the wine punch Sangría, based on Rioja wine, and exhibited it at the 1964 New York World's Fair. An import subsidiary of Pepsi Cola purchased the rights to the wine and began marketing it worldwide.


- White wines: The whole grape is passed to a draining tank. The stems are then removed and it is pressed to obtain the must which is transferred to the fermentation tanks.

- Rosé wines: The grape is destemmed and lightly crushed and sent to draining tanks. Here, it is left to macerate for a short period. It is then pressed and left for a day for the suspended particles to settle. It is then decanted and the almost crystalline must is transferred to the fermentation tanks.

- Red wines: There are two ways of making red wine in Rioja. The most widely used today involves the removal of the stalks in a destemmer before fermentation. This is more appropriate for wines which are to be aged in wood. In the traditional system, the whole grape bunches are fermented in large pools. This is known as "carbonic maceration". The resulting wines are smoother, with good body, intense colour and ideally suited for drinking during their first year.

In both cases the must is overpumped during fermentation, to ensure good colour extraction and maintain a constant temperature throughout the tank. Both systems aim to achieve uniform fermentation and to ensure the aromas from the must are not lost.

After fermentation, the wine is decanted. After separating the solid matter, the wine is transferred to storage tanks and subjected to quality controls.

Control Board carries out sensorial and laboratory tests to determine whether the wine deserves to be considered a "Rioja". The sensorial tests are carried out at the premises of the Control Board and in the Viticulture and Oenology Station in Haro, La Rioja. Lab tests are carried out in the House of Wine in Laguardia, Alava and the Oenological Station in Olite, Navarre and the Haro Station.

Rioja wines are aged in 225-litre oak casks, with periodic rackings, followed by a further period of bottle ageing. There are over 368 ageing bodegas in Rioja which have a total of 1,266,154 casks. The different Rioja wine categories are based on minimum ageing periods, which can vary between 1 and 3 years in casks and between 6 months and 6 years in the bottle, depending on whether the wine is to be a Crianza, a Reserva or a Gran Reserva.


One of the traits that sets Rioja Wines apart is their excellent aptitude for ageing, a quality that is exclusive to great wines. Through appropriate ageing,. in which oak wood plays a decisive role, Rioja Wine evolves, its virtues becoming more prominent and acquiring new aromas and flavours. Rioja Wines are aged in 225 litre oak casks, where the wine experiences a slow evolutionary process of micro-oxygenation and stabilisation, and eventually acquires aromas and flavours released by the tannins in the wood. This is the traditional ageing method of great wines, a natural, more costly process than modern proposals of a more "industrial" oenology. The ageing process is completed in the bottle, where the wine continues to evolve in a reducing atmosphere until it reaches its peak. Great wines from historic vintages sleep in bottles for decades in the "sacristies" of the bodegas until they are transformed into true oenological gems.

Depending on the ageing process, Rioja wine can be put into one of four categories, identified by different numbered back labels or seals, which the Control Board issues to those wines that meet quality and tipicity requirements:

- Young wines: Wines in their first or second year, which keep their primary freshness and fruitiness.
- Crianza wines: Wines which are at least in their third year, having spent a minimum of one year in casks. For white wines, the minimum cask ageing period is 6 months.
- Reserva wines: Selected wines of the best vintages with an excellent potential that have been aged for a minimum of 3 years, with at least one year in casks. For white wines, the minimum ageing period is 2 years, with at least 6 months in casks.
- Gran Reserva wines: Selected wines from exceptional vintages which have spent at least 2 years in oak casks and 3 years in the bottle. For white wines, the minimum ageing period is 4 years, with at least one year in casks.

The four models of numbered back labels or seals that should accompany every bottle of Rioja wine that is sold constitute a document that guarantees the ageing category as well as the origin, vintage and quality of the wine. The characteristics of each vintage determine the amount of wine that winemakers will assign to each ageing category -Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.

Rioja wines are elegant, original and have the unmistakable character of great wines, something which is only possible when grape varieties, vine-growing methods and winemaking procedures have been honed over time. Given the diversity in winegrowing offered by the Designation, it has been a traditional practice by the bodegas to blend different grape varieties and wines, from different vineyards and towns, seeking the complementary elements which will intensify their respective properties in the end product. This is undoubtedly the best-known kind of Rioja, although bodegas are increasingly offering a rich variety of styles with wines of high fruit concentration which aim to express the traits of specific vineyards.

With Tempranillo as the main element, Rioja reds are characterised by being very balanced in their alcohol content, colour and acidity, by having a body and structure offset perfectly by a gentle and elegant flavour and by being mainly fruity in nature when young and more velvety when aged. These characteristics make Rioja Wines highly versatile when combining with the most varied foods. This, together with the fact that it is a user-friendly, easy-to-drink wine, constitutes one of the keys to its success.

From October 2008, the new guarantee labels will gradually replace the current ones in the new vintages that reach each of the ageing categories.


Rioja red wines are classified into four categories. The first, simply labeled Rioja, is the youngest, spending less than a year in an oak aging barrel. A crianza is wine aged for at least two years, at least one of which was in oak. Rioja Reserva is aged for at least three years, of which at least one year is in oak. Finally, Rioja Gran Reserva wines have been aged at least two years in oak and three years in bottle. Reserva and Gran Reserva wines are not necessarily produced each year. Also produced are wines in a semi-crianza style, those that have had a couple of months oak influence but not enough to be called a full crianza. The designation of crianza, Reserva etc. might not always appear on the front label but may appear on a neck or back label in the form of a stamp designation known as Consejo.


Rioja wines are protected by the oldest Designation of Origin in Spain, officially recognised in 1926. In 1991, it was awarded the highest category - Calificada - making Rioja the only designation in Spain to be so honoured. Its Regulations establish the borders of the production area, the grape varieties that may be grown, maximum allowable yields, approved vinification and ageing techniques, and so on. The Control Board, which includes grape growers, winemakers and Administration representatives, is the body charged with ensuring compliance with the D.O.'s Regulations in order to protect the type and quality of Rioja wines.

The Control Board runs a strict and efficient control system from production to commercialisation, both for the quantity and quality of protected wines. For this, all Rioja wines have to undergo analytical and organoleptic tests to determine if the wine is worthy or not of the Denominación de Origen Calificada. The analyses are carried out in the official laboratories of the three Autonomous Communities and the blind tastings are performed by a panel of grape growers and oenologists.

The control continues through the ageing process to commercialisation when the Board awards the bodegas the corresponding numbered back labels or seals which guarantee the origin, vintage and ageing of the wines. The compulsory bottling of Rioja wines in the production area also contributes to ensuring their quality and type.

- Viticulture: In both the production and winemaking of Rioja wines, and with the aim of optimising quality, a more rigorous standard is applied than in other vitivinicultural areas. Compliance with this standard, rigorously guaranteed by the Control Board, conveys a sense of security and trust to the consumer and has been a determining factor in the leading position attained by Rioja wines in the Spanish market.

All aspects relating to the viticulture are covered by the Designation's Regulations or by standards issued by the Board on matters such as planting density, which must meet a compulsory minimum of 2,850 vines per hectare and a maximum of 4,000 vines per hectare. Only the seven traditional varieties are authorised: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo, Viura, Malvasía and Garnacha Blanca. Each and every one of the vineyards which are registered in the Designation must appear on the Board's records with the name of the owner, the municipal district, location, surface area, variety, year of planting and number of vines.

Growing practices must generally aim to optimise quality of production, which is the reason why the Control Board adopts the appropriate measures for each harvest, particularly with regard to regulating irrigation according to ecological conditions.

Pruning systems also affect grape productivity and quality which is why, where the traditional goblet system and its varieties are used, a maximum load of only 12 buds per vine over a maximum of six spurs is allowed. If pruning is trellised or espaliered, for the double cordon system the maximum load will be 12 buds distributed over a maximum of six spurs, while for the rod and spur system the load will be distributed along a rod and one or two spurs of two buds with a maximum of 10 buds per vine. Under no circumstances may the maximum limit of 36,000 buds per hectare be exceeded, except for the Garnacha variety, for which 42,000 buds per hectare will be allowed.

The Regulation similarly establishes maximum authorised production limits per hectare, which are below the average for the more prestigious European designations of origin. For red varieties this limit is 6,500 kg per hectare and for white varieties it is 9,000 kg per hectare. Each year, the Control Board issues a document called the "Grape grower's Record Book" where the owner's hectares of vineyards are listed from the data in the Register of Vineyards for the D.O., as well as the maximum yield allowed for these vineyards. This document, which is supplied with slips, is used to monitor all buying and selling of grapes during the harvest.

Failure on the part of grape growers to comply with these measures regarding vineyard growing practices could lead to loss of the right to use the name Rioja for the production obtained.

- Harvests: Quality and origin guarantees for Rioja wines from harvest. The harvest is one of the key moments when the complete control system established by the Board to guarantee the origin and quality of wines produced in Rioja is applied. During the harvest, the Board Inspection Services monitor the transfer of grapes, control the borders of the Wine region, verify the quality of the grapes and coordinate the more than 200 "harvest helpers" expressly hired by the Board to monitor the weighing of all grape production on each of the scales located at the winemaking centres.

In order to grow or sell grapes with the right to use the Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja, the more than 18,000 vineyard owners currently in Rioja must have a supporting document, the "Grape grower's Record Book", where the registered surface area of the vineyard and the maximum authorised grape output in kg must appear, in accordance with the provisions of the Regulations. This is 6,500 kg per hectare for red varieties and 9,000 kg per hectare for white varieties.

The right to use the name Rioja for the production obtained by each grape grower is also conditioned by prior compliance with authorised growing practices and the weighing of harvested grapes in the presence of the Board's weighing supervisor to guarantee the true harvest volume obtained in the D.O. In all winemaking bodegas, whether they are a winegrower, co-operative or trading company, the corresponding weight slip is written out for each consignment of grape received and individualised according to the class of grape, red or white and the place of origin of the grape.

Every bodega wishing to make wine must inform the Control Board sufficiently in advance giving the start date or the opening of the grape harvest, as well as the points or places where this will happen and also reception timetable, as all the grapes must be weighed in the presence of the Board's supervisor. Once the harvest is over and independently of the grape grower's harvest statement, commercial producers submit slips to the Control Board for each consignment of grapes acquired together with the list of sellers and harvest information.

- Vintage rating: The implementation in 1985 of the Approval Plan for Rioja wines, long before it was required by legislation, clearly shows the interest of the D.O. in improving the quality of its wines. Undoubtedly, prior approval of wines for the right to use the Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja has greatly influenced improvements in winemaking techniques and has therefore created higher quality wines, which is the main aim of the D.O. Generally, the analytical parameters which determine good winemaking, such as the total SO2 content, volatile acidity and reducing sugars, are well below the margins permitted by current legislation. Once the aim of improving winemaking had been achieved, which has had a direct effect on lowering the number of wines rejected by analytical tests, the Control Board has worked extensively over recent years at improving the organoleptic features, which are fundamental in differentiating wine type and quality.

The approval process is becoming an entrance exam to determine whether the finished wine is worthy or not of the D.O. The harvest approval process takes place between 1 December and 31 March. More than 4,000 samples, representing all wines produced in the D.O. Calificada Rioja, are taken by Control Board experts from the same tanks where the wines have been fermenting and are analysed in one of the three official D.O. laboratories (Oenological Research Stations in Haro, Laguardia and Olite), to determine whether the components meet the requirements of the Rioja Regulations.

Subsequently, the Board's Approval Committees carry out the organoleptic examination of the samples to evaluate the type, colour, clarity, aroma, flavour and quality of the wine. This is the decisive stage in the approval process, which is carried out individually and without prior comments so that tasters do not influence one other, since tasting is the best way of deciding wine quality as well as its distinguished and unmistakable Rioja personality. The Approval Committees work under the supervision of a Control Board expert and employ over a hundred experts. Each committee is comprised of three tasters -a winegrower, a bodega technician and a member of the Oenological Association- who evaluate the wine tasted, independently and according to strict professional criteria, and determine whether it meets criteria. If it is found to be suitable, it will be granted the right to use the name Rioja.

The strict approval process of Rioja wines provides very detailed information on the quality of all wines produced from each harvest, so giving an excellent technical basis for the Control Board's global rating of the vintage. Unlike vintage ratings issued by other DOs based on tasting a dozen samples, specially selected for the occasion, the rating of Rioja vintages is based on results of the chemical and organoleptic analyses of samples taken directly from all the wine-producing bodegas, which is undoubtedly much more objective. This official vintage rating is carried out on recently produced wines which is why "it must be completed with reference to the evolution of wines subjected to ageing", an evaluation reflected by the Board in the Rioja Vintages Chart.

- Control in the bodega: All bodegas wishing to produce and sell Rioja wines must appear on the Control Board's registries and fulfil a series of requirements, such as being located within the Wine Region, the territory of the Designation of Origin, and being separated by a public road from any other place which is intended for non-protected wines, as exclusive dedication to Rioja wines is a prerequisite. The facilities must also meet winemaking, ageing and bottling requirements.

The bodegas are classified into four distinct categories: Winegrowers, Co-operatives, Wine keepers and Ageing bodegas. For the bodega to be an classified as an ageing bodega, it must have a minimum of fifty 225-litre oak casks and 22,500 litres of wine in stock. The period of time during which a wine is aged, which will allow the right to use one or another type of back label, is supervised using control forms containing all the movements of each wine from each harvest within the bodega until it leaves to be sold (tank, cask, bottle, labelling, etc.). These control forms are submitted to the Control Board every month for computer processing and they give a complete picture of the bodega's situation, its stocks and sales of the different types and categories of wine, etc. This also provides very accurate information on the situation of the D.O. as a whole, used to generate statistical analyses.

The Board's Technical Services carry out frequent inspections to check stock volumes by wine type and vintage, number of casks and bottles, back labels, etc., and so verify the accuracy of the statements made by the bodegas. They also control wine movements between different bodegas (mainly sales from winegrowers and co-operatives to ageing bodegas) which require the corresponding authorisation, and they take samples of the finished product for analytical examination and tasting both in the bodegas and at sales outlets in domestic and foreign markets. All the labels used by the bodegas to sell their wines must have prior authorisation from the Board, which must also issue the Certificate of Origin for export to other countries.

- Guarantee labels:
. Young wines: Wines in their first or second year, which keep their primary freshness and fruitiness.
. Crianza wines: Wines which are at least in their third year, having spent a minimum of one year in casks and a few months in the bottle. For white wines, the minimum cask ageing period is 6 months.
. Reserva wines: Selected wines of the best vintages with an excellent potential that have been aged for a minimum of 3 years, with at least one year in casks. For white wines, the minimum ageing period is 2 years, with at least 6 months in casks.
. Gran Reserva wines: Selected wines from exceptional vintages which have spent at least 2 years in oak casks and 3 years in the bottle. For white wines, the minimum ageing period is 4 years, with at least one year in casks.

Inimitable back labels: new guarantees for consumers.

The Control Board de the D.O.Ca. Rioja has implemented a new security system, a first in the world of wine, in order to guarantee the authenticity of Rioja wine back labels and seals. This system involves a device called "Rioja Trustseal" which is manufactured with diffractive optical technology. It consists of a small (7x22 mm) metallic-looking strip depicting parts of the logo and the word "Rioja". Its exclusive design, glossy sheen, sharply-defined edges and optical effects will enable consumers to identify the label as genuine, even under poor lighting conditions. The system, which is widely used on European banknotes, has been developed by a world leader in security systems. It will make Rioja back labels and seals virtually impossible to forge.

The first back labels and seals to include the Rioja Trustseal are the young wines from the 2000 vintage, the 1998 Crianzas, the 1997 Reservas and the 1995 Gran Reservas. The old back labels and seals will still continue on the market for vintages prior to those mentioned above for each category.

Rioja pioneered the seal of guarantee of origin in 1926 and brought out the first ageing-specific back labels in 1974. With this new "guarantee of authenticity", Rioja provides yet another guarantee for consumers worldwide, together with those of quality, origin, vintage and ageing category, which are reflected on each back label and seal.

- Market surveillance: Rioja quality and origin guarantees, safer than ever. Rioja is probably one of the designations of origin in the world which provides the highest guarantees to consumers with respect to provenance, vintage, ageing category and quality in each bottle bearing one of the four back labels or seals issued by the Control Board (Generic, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva). To achieve its goal of maximum quality assurance -and in tune with its standing as the only D.O. in Spain to have the Calificada surname- Rioja goes beyond the strict enforcement of its exacting regulations on grape growing and winemaking by carrying out extensive market surveillance actions.

Generally, the control systems established by most designations of origin are limited to the grape growers and wineries located within their territory, without regular controls of the market outside their borders with respect to possible illegal actions by external agents. One of Rioja's exclusive control measures consists of taking monthly samples of Rioja wines at point of sale, both in the Spanish market and abroad. The samples are examined by the Control Board Technical Services, which check both the product characteristics and the authenticity of the back labels or seals on the bottles.

Currently, the Control Board uses state-of-the-art technology to ensure the authenticity of its back labels and seals. Among these is the new "Rioja Trustseal", a device which makes it easy to identify forged labels, thereby discouraging this practice and making it highly unlikely that anyone will attempt unauthorised use of the Rioja brand.

With its systematic follow-up of its wines at points of sale, a unique practice in our country, the D.O.Ca. Rioja continues to hold its traditional leadership position in offering consumers the most complete quality, origin and ageing assurance system for its protected wines.


In Spain, wineries are commonly referred to as bodegas though this term may also refer to a wine cellar or warehouse. For quite some time, the Rioja wine industry has been dominated by local family vineyards and co-operatives that have bought the grapes and make the wine. Some bodegas would buy fermented wine from the co-ops and age the wine to sell under their own label. In recent times there has been more emphasis on securing vineyard land and making estate bottled wines from the bodegas.


Like most Spanish wine regions, Rioja is an integral part of Spanish culture and cuisine. In the town of Haro there is an annual Wine Festival that is noted for its Batalla de Vino where participants conduct a food fight of sorts with wine.

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