Quick and Easy Guide to Rioja wine
Know your Bodega from your Bo Diddley with our latest regional guide.
Bordered by the Sierra Cantabria in the north and Sierra de Cameros in the South, the fertile Ebro river valley is a haven for the cultivation of artichokes, peppers, asparagus, olives and, above all, wine. Despite its large size and differing terroirs, the region is covered by only one denomination and bodegas have tended to blend different parcels of vines to create a 'house style'. The key classification for Rioja is the amount of time the wine is aged in oak barrels and then in bottle – 1 year in cask, 1 in bottle for Crianza; 1 plus 2 for Reserva; 2 plus 3 for Gran Reserva. Having made a first-rate effort to shoot themselves in both feet by over-production in the 1970s, followed by over extraction and over-oaking in the 1990s, the bodegas of Rioja are seeing a real renaissance driven by a succession of good vintages and a focus on quality for wines that are of intrinsically outstanding value. 95% of production is red and this is yet another region where the UK is the largest export market – salud!
Area Under Vine:
62,000 hectares, a tad smaller than the Rhône valley.
Key Areas DOCs:
There is only one, although it's divided into three areas Alta, Baja and Alavesa (across the Rioja Ebro in Basque country). Historically, the best wines came from Rioja Alta, although the boundaries have been blurred by the more recent efforts of, for example, Alvaro Palacios in the Baja.
Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo, Graciano, Viura (for white).
Lopez de Heredia, Muga, La Rioja Alta, CUNE.
Caparrones (red kidney bean & chorizo stew), chipirones (fried baby squid), embuchados (fried lamb's intestines), guisante de lagrima (seasonal petit pois)
Restaurants we like:
Asado Terete (Haro), Restaurante Alameda (Fuenmayor).
Famous people from the region:
First poet of Castilian literature Gonzalo de Berceo, engineer and eight-time Prime Minister Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, brothers Fausto and Juan José Elhuyar - discoverers of the chemical element Tungsten.
Things to do:
Visit the museum of wine culture in the pretty medieval town of Briones; marvel at the stunning bodega architecture of Frank Gehry (Marques de Riscal), Zaha Hadid (Lopez de Heredia) and Santiago Calatrava (Ysios); spend an evening on the 'trail of the elephants' munching delicious pinchos in the specialist bars of the Calle La Laurel in Logrono; get all 'Jurassic Park' checking out over 1,000 dinosaur footprints and the Paleontological Centre near Enciso. Discover the origins of the Castilian language in the Monasterio of Yuso in San Millan de la Cogolla.