Rioja is one of Spain's most famous wine regions, known for producing some of the country's finest wines. Located in the north of Spain, Rioja is home to a range of grape varieties and winemaking styles, making it an exciting region to explore for wine enthusiasts. In this beginner's guide to Rioja wines, we'll take a closer look at the region's history, grape varieties, and winemaking techniques to help you get started on your Rioja wine journey.
1. The History of Rioja Wines
Rioja has a rich winemaking history dating back to the Roman Empire. But it wasn't until the 19th century that Rioja wines gained international recognition. In the 1850s, a fungal disease devastated the French vineyards, leading to an increase in demand for Spanish wines. Rioja was one of the regions that benefitted from this, and by the end of the 19th century, it was the most important wine region in Spain.
2. The Basics of Rioja Wines
The most common grape varieties used in Rioja wines are Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Graciano for red wines and Viura, Malvasía, and Garnacha Blanca for white wines. Tempranillo is the dominant grape variety in Rioja, accounting for around 75% of the region's red wine production. It's a versatile grape that produces wines with a wide range of styles, from light and fruity to rich and full-bodied.
Rioja wines can be red, white, or rosé, but red wines are the most common. Rioja wines are aged for different periods of time before release, ranging from Crianza (aged for at least one year in oak and one year in the bottle), Reserva (aged for at least three years, including at least one year in oak), and Gran Reserva (aged for at least five years, including at least two years in oak). The different aging requirements give Rioja wines a range of flavor profiles and aging potential.
3. Understanding Rioja Appellations
Rioja is divided into three main sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental (also known as Rioja Baja). Each sub-region has its own unique terroir, with Rioja Alta producing wines with higher acidity and freshness, Rioja Alavesa producing wines with more structure and tannins, and Rioja Oriental producing wines with more fruit-forward flavors. Rioja wines are also classified according to their aging requirements, as mentioned above.
4. How to Pair Rioja Wines with Food
Rioja wines are incredibly food-friendly and pair well with a variety of dishes. For red wines, try pairing them with roasted meats, stews, and hearty pasta dishes. For white wines, try pairing them with seafood, white meats, and salads. And don't forget to try the local specialties like pinchos (tapas), chorizo, lamb, and Manchego cheese.
5. Where to Buy Rioja Wines
Rioja wines can be found at wine shops and specialty stores around the world, but to get the best selection and prices, it's worth seeking out a reputable importer or online retailer. Some of the top importers of Rioja wines include Jorge Ordoñez Selections, Europvin, and Ole Imports.
In conclusion, Rioja wines offer a unique taste of Spain and are a great option for both beginner and experienced wine enthusiasts. With a little bit of knowledge and experimentation, you can start to explore the diverse range of Rioja wines and discover your favorites. So pour yourself a glass of Rioja and start exploring!