Rioja is on the move

Win a trip to Rioja and see for yourself.


Rioja is Spain’s iconic wine. It’s difficult to find a wine that can deliver, depth, complexity, and value like a great bottle of Rioja. The flavors of Tempranillo are like an old friend to me, as they are to so many people. But the times, they are a changing, as a  fresh generation of winelovers, and winemakers, explores new, and exciting, styles of winemaking in Rioja.

In the past there was pretty much one style of winemaking practiced in Rioja, what we now call the traditional style. The wines were marked by their long sojourns in American oak, giving the reds, and the whites, complex, layered flavors, and aromas, of vanilla and coconut, topped with subtle hints of nutty oxidation.

There is nothing wrong with this style of winemaking, and, in fact, when in the right hands, these traditional wines have delivered my benchmark Rioja experiences. Traditional winemaking, however, does not highlight the rich fruit of Tempranillo. That, on the other hand, is the mission of the new breed of winemaker in Rioja.  Read more about both new and old style Rioja here.

Rioja: What to expect

The Rioja region of Spain produces one of the world’s finest, and most long-lived wines: Rioja. Rioja's renaissance, in the latter half of the 19th century, was a direct result of the phyloxera bug that decimated vineyards around the globe. When English merchants looked for wines to replace their loss of French imports they discovered the beauty of Rioja.

Tempranillo, the heart of red Rioja, tends to produce wines with a dusty, leathery edge to their raspberry and blackberry fruit tones. With additions of Graciano, Mazuela and Garnacha, the wines of Rioja gain layers of flavor and aroma. The tradition of extended oak aging for Rioja's great wines adds yet another element to the distinctive bouquet of Rioja.

While the Spaniards have traditionally been fans of the strong vanilla and coconut aromas that American oak barrels add to Rioja. Many producers have turned to French oak, favoring it's more subtle nature. Rioja's Reserva and Gran Reserva bottlings, representing a producer's highest achievement, continues to undergo extended aging in barrel, spending a minimum of 3, or 5 years respectively in the producer's cellar.

Rioja: An equation that includes soil and fruit

Tempranillo has gained fame as the predominant grape in the blended wines of Rioja. Tempranillo generally produces medium bodied wines with juicy acidity and bright raspberry fruit enlivened by notes of dusty earth, dry herbs, and leather. Read about the grapes of Rioja.

La Rioja
We seem to always speak about Rioja as if it’s one place, but, in fact, there are three distinct regions that fall within La Rioja: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja,and Rioja Alavesa. Each region has it’s own terroir, yielding distinct wines that can vary from their neighbors in surprising ways. Read about the terroir of Rioja.

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  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    Good to see this attention on a region from which I've enjoyed so many delicious wines, and usually at a most reasonable price, certainly compared to north across the border.

    Once again, good choice, Greg. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the Cune Vina Real Crianza, and others....

    Jan 26, 2010 at 6:57 PM

  • Snooth User: hhotdog
    Hand of Snooth
    78705 481

    i sooo agree. rioja is one of my favorites and got it this @ $29(what an incredible bargain!!) a 2001 aroco seleccion rioja...just had it a week ago and had held onto for a painstaking 2, has it developed even more...only one left!!! ouchhhhhhhhh! love riojas!! any suggestions of some good riojas please feel free to add!!

    Jan 26, 2010 at 11:06 PM

  • Glad to see that Snooth has profiled Rioja. It is without a doubt my favorite wine district!

    Jan 27, 2010 at 6:22 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    Judging by the small number of replies to this thread compared to most any of the other subjects in Snooth articles, it appears that Rioja is suffering from a weak sexy factor. What can be done to up its exposure, or do we want to keep it in the shadows so cost performance stays as good as it currently is? ;-)

    Jan 29, 2010 at 3:12 AM

  • I don't think that Rioja suffers from a 'weak sexy factor', it's probably just off most people's radar. In a country such as the US that identifies wine by grape variety, my feeling is that consumers aren't sure if 'Rioja' is a grape or a region and that generates uncertainly when the time comes to pick a bottle from the shelf.

    I know that the region is investing heavily in social media and online ads and targeting millennials as well as baby boomers so they're on the right track. I believe that Rioja just needs more time to build up a following.

    Jan 29, 2010 at 3:52 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    OK, TP, maybe just a question of semantics, but how about another issue that's bothered me recently, not just with Rioja but also Ribera del Duero and Priorat. How can we support a move back towards more traditional styles of wine there and away from the 'Californication' of certain wineries that now make fruitbombs that aren't likely to age that well (or go with food for that matter)? I've had several bottles recently that made me think the bottles were from Paso Robles instead of north-central Spain. Or is this just an attempt to make their wines appear more 'sexy' to Parker-programmed international consumers? ;-)

    Jan 29, 2010 at 9:30 PM

  • Snooth User: hhotdog
    Hand of Snooth
    78705 481

    hey guys,

    the only way to get any attention to rioja is to try the wines...keep the word out until enough people hear. i have always responded to the suggestion here on snooth and usually can tell what my tastes are in comparison to others here. i do believe it only takes one big rioja to get you hooked...or any really good wine variety.

    Jan 31, 2010 at 12:21 AM

  • Snooth User: GregT
    Hand of Snooth
    89564 2,658

    D - it's way too late to post this and i don't know if you'll read it, but there's nothing to go back to in some of those areas. Priorat for example, wasn't making very great wine until a few people showed up in 1990. Before that, there wasn't anything that anyone wanted to sell in any other country or even in other parts of Spain.

    In RdD, same thing. Vega Sicilia was there, but most of the growers just sold to co-ops. Then Fernandez showed up and started trying to make good wine. One by one, growers started peeling off and began making their own wines rather than selling their fruit. What was going to be their model? They certainly weren't going to invent some "tradition" that didn't exist, nor were they going to eschew modern winemaking techniques. Their fruit is big and powerful and they went with it. It's where I think some of Spain's greatest wines are from, or at least my faves.

    Rioja of course, is bigger than both of those regions. And some of those newer Riojas age very nicely!

    Feb 06, 2010 at 12:32 AM

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