What is Rioja?
Rioja is wine named for the La Rioja region north central Spain, home to some of the finest Tempranillo-based wines in the world. Tempranillo is the standout, but the region’s Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano are also very popular. Many wine aficionados will tell you that Rioja red wines tend to be a bit easier on the head and stomach then many of the world’s other bold red wines, but with more flavor and complexity.
Rioja usually includes about 60% Tempranillo, which contributes the main flavors and aging potential; up to 20% Garnacha, which gives body and alcohol to the Rioja; and much smaller amounts of Mazuelo and Graciano, which offer seasoning flavors and aromas.
Rioja is divided into three zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja, each producing its own expression of Rioja wine. Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa share a climate on a higher elevation, resulting in a shorter growing season. Rioja Alta wines tend to be lighter on the palate, while Rioja Alavesa wines generally have a fuller body and higher acidity.
Rioja Baja’s Mediterranean climate is warmer and drier, producing deeply colored wines with high alcohol by volume. These are typically used for blending with wines from other parts of Rioja.
The effect of oak aging is a distinct characteristic of Rioja wine, producing strong vanilla flavors. As Rioja wines continue to evolve, the movement today is toward riper, bigger and darker wines than traditional wines from the region. Many wine producers are aging their wines for shorter periods of time in smaller, newer barrels, allowing for an earlier release.