Spain | Ebro River Vally
Snaking between the Sierra de Cantábria mountains and the Sierra Demanda, the River Ebro and its tributaries have helped carve out vineyards that have been celebrated for at least two centuries.
Rioja DOC/DOCa is a wine region that has traditionally carried Spain’s reputation for high quality wine production and is made up of three sub-regions: Rioja Alavesa; Rioja Alta; and Rioja Baja. They each have distinct differences but any notion of a hierarchy between them is now somewhat misguided. As is the fashion with grapes too, for whilst the black Tempranillo is still king, Garnacha, Mazuelo (Carineña), Graciano and increasing numbers of other indigenous grapes are generating new ideas and styles in the region.
Rioja produces a collection of red, white and rosé wines, but it is the reds that account for the greater part of its fame. Ageing classifications have, until recently, been the primary means for separating one wine from another.
Rioja Joven (‘young’) wines are destined for early drinking and they often see little or no oak and are only aged for one to two years before release.
Rioja labelled as Crianza are aged for two years (one year in oak and one year in bottle) and are best suited for early or mid-term enjoyment.
Rioja Reserva wines are aged for three years, often one year in oak and two years in bottle; however there are producers who go above and beyond this requirement with their Reserva wines. Rioja Reserva wines can be age-worthy or offer serious immediate consumption.
Rioja Gran Reserva wines have been regarded as the region’s pinnacle; they are at least five years old (two years in oak barrel and three years in bottle) and are generally ready to drink. But they can age for years too; their long barrel ageing often renders them gentle and complex, rather than big and rich.
Whilst Rioja has often been seen as the traditional area of quality wine production nearby neighbour Navarra has generally been known for quantity. Navarra is a region historically renowned for its rosé wines made from the Garnacha grape, although it is now gaining popularity for quality driven red wines made from more fashionable international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot.
Farther south, Calatayud (DO), Campo de Borja (DO), and Cariñena (DO) provide a range of great value wine styles. To the east, vineyards are nestled along the base of the foothills of the Pyrenées, where the cool-climate region of Somontano (DO) can be found.