martes, 10 de marzo de 2015

Climate, Soil and Topography of the Rioja Wine Region


La Rioja wine region is located south of the Cantabrian Mountains and North of the Demanda Mountains, along the Ebro River. This area benefits from a very especial mix of Atlantic, Continental and Mediterranean climate.

- The Cantabrian Mountains in the North:
Shelters the vineyards from the cold, clouds and rainy wins coming from the North and the Cantabric Sea.

- The Demanda Mountains in the South: Protect and isolate the vines from the warm winds coming from the South and Africa.

This conditions makes La Rioja, to enjoy an enviable position among other Spanish wine regions. Helping the vines and grapes to have the longest growing season throughout all Europe, starting the grapes to ripen in early June and ending the harvest around mid-October. Enough time for the tannins to melt and give a way very soft, subtle, and elegant wines.
Many of the Rioja's vineyards are found along the Ebro valley, between the towns of Haro and Alfaro, witch are about 120 km or 75 miles apart from each other. Making it very difficult to make climatic, soil and topography generalizations about a wine region that is so spread a pat in distance. And this is the reason why Rioja is further subdivided into three zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa.

Most of the region is situated on a plateau, a little more than 460 m or 1,500 feet above sea level. The vineyards range in altitude from 300 m or 984 ft above sea level at Alfaro in the east to nearly 800 m on the slopes of the Sierra de Cantabria to the North West.

Average annual rainfall in the region ranges from 300 mm or 12 inches in parts of Rioja Baja to more than 510 mm or 20 inches in La Rioja Alta and Alavesa. 

Traditionally, the best grapes where grown on the cooler slopes to the north west around the towns and villages of Haro, Cuzcurrita de Río Tirón, Labastida, San Vicente, Laguardia, Elciego, Cenicero, and Briones. These zones share similar clay soils based on limestone. Downstream to the east, the climate becomes gradually warmer with rainfall decreasing to less than 400 mm at Logroño. Where the valley broadens, there is a higher incidence of fertile, alluvial soils composed chiefly of silt. Around Calahorra and Alfaro in Rioja Baja the climate is more Mediterranean.

- Rioja Alta: On the western edge of the region, and located at higher elevation, this is more Atlantic in climate. Here we can find a big diversity of soils, most of them limestone and clay, but in some places the soil can be rich in iron or full of pebbles.

This higher elevation equates to a longer growing season, which in turns, produces more acidity, brighter fruit flavours, less alcohol, great age potential, and lighter colour intensity. It can be thought of, as more ‘old-school’ style of wine.

- Rioja Alavesa: On the North edge of the region, it has the highest elevation, with a distinctive chalky clay-limestone soil and steeply sloped landscape.

The Rioja Alavesa produces wines with a fuller body, good acidity and very fragrant aromas in their youth.

Vineyards in this 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: Located at the southeast edge of the region and a lower in elevation. The area is strongly influenced by a Mediterranean Weather, which makes this climate, the warmest and driest of the three Rioja regions.

Temperatures in the summer typically reach 35 °C or 95 °F. In the summer months and during the growing season, drought can be a problem; on the other hand, since the late 1990s irrigation has been permitted. 

It has much fertile alluvial soils and is heavy with silt. Here wines are very deeply coloured, rich, juicy, with a reduce acidity and some times can be highly alcoholic, with some wines reaching 18% alcohol. In the past this wines didn’t have much acidity or aroma and were generally used as blending components with wines from other parts of the Rioja.

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