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Rioja is Spain, the country’s most famous wine region. Rioja is also Tempranillo’s territory, with the bold, but juicy grape dominating the landscape.
Rioja is situated in Northern Spain. It has 3 sub-wine regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa & Rioja Baja. Rioja Alta is situated 300m higher than Rioja Baja. The climate is cooler, so wines tends to be higher in acidity & more elegant. Same counts for Rioja Alavesa. Rioja Baja’s wines are more fruit-forward & richer, meant to be drunk right away.
Tempranillo has the style of a Cabernet Sauvignon, but with more fruit flavours. It’s a large grape that has thin skins, so the colour in your glass could be to the paler side. Don’t let this misguide you, as Tempranillo has a medium-full body with flavours like fleshly tomato, cherry & plum. Earthy & leather notes will present in Spanish wines. New world Tempranillo’s (Portugal, USA, Argentina, Australia) tend to be more fruit forward with less earthy notes.
In Rioja, Tempranillo reds can have one of the 4 wine styles. This is based on the oak-ageing time the wine has been undergone. The 4 different styles are: Rioja/Joven, Crianza, Reserva & Gran Reserva. Basically, the longer the wine has been aged, the better quality.
Rioja/Joven wines are true Tempranillo character wines. Young, fruity & without all the depth & richness of the other types.
Crianza’s had a bit of oak, so this is a good entry-level Rioja wine to drink. With the natural tannins & oak, you can compare this as a wine between a Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon.
Reserva is what is called the ‘’sweet spot’’. Still the fruitiness of the Crianza, but well-balanced with oak of the Grand Reserva. Better grapes from the vineyards are picked to produce this style of Rioja.
Gran Reserva wines are a balance of a structured tannic wine with oak. Age worthy, the Spanish winemakers give the wine it’s time to get to the best it can be. This means that the minimum requirement of 2 years oak-ageing + 3 years in bottle in most occasions are passed by, putting Gran Reserva Rioja’s of 10+ years of ageing on the market.
So, a Rioja wine is made mainly from Tempranillo, but can be blended with other Spanish grapes like Garnacha, Mazuelo & Graciano to contribute to the flavour or structure of the wine.
White wines are also made in Rioja too. Rioja Blanco is made mainly using Viura (Macabeo), Malvasia & Garnacha Blanca.
Next time you’re at your local wine shop, please pay attention to the different wine labels. Or grab all 4 styles & hold a wine tasting party using my Tasting Mats!