The wines of La Rioja, Spain!

Wine is part of my life since birth, my maternal grandmother was the one who offered me a tiny bit of wine at age 8! It has been a love affairs ever since and in my house we cannot eat without wine. That is wine as culture in our home, we know how to drink in moderation.

That first sip of wine came from Marqués de Riscal in the Rioja region of Spain. It was, also, my first bottle of wine I purchased; many many years ago. From then , I even worked in a liquor store wine department in Florida. Went on to have diploma from ICEX the commercial office of Spain abroad and Sopexa ,food and wine from France. My cellars is not big but any day you can find 50 bottles in it , ready to drink shortly; who wants to aged the wines, they are meant to be drunk!!!

Guillermo Hurtado de Amézaga inherited vineyards and old wineries from his sister in Elciego in 1858, founding in 1860 together with his son Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga the Marqués de Riscal winery, considered the oldest modern winery in La Rioja. He conceived the winery in the style of the French Château, bringing in 1868 the first vines of French origin that were grown in Spain and the best French techniques from the hand of Jean Pineau.

The Rioja is Spain in a glass of red wine. The wine is known for its structure and tannins, similar to Cabernet Sauvignon , but it also has a fruity characteristic. This is a wine perfect for a drinker who loves Cabernet but is also looking for the dominant cherry flavor that’s often present in a wine like Pinot Noir. Rioja is made from a blend of grape varieties, with Tempranillo the dominant grape (Garnacha is typically included in the blend to add some fruitiness. Mazuelo and Graciano may also be included). Spain is very proud of its indigenous Tempranillo grape because they have been making it into wine for over 2,000 years. When choosing to buy a Rioja, the most important thing to know is that the wine separates into four levels of classification, which depends on the amount of time the wine spends in oak. The classification of each Rioja will be labeled clearly on the bottle.

Rioja: This is the basic form of the wine. It has been aged for only a short amount of time in oak, potentially only a few months, and then the wine is bottled and sold. It is in this wine where the juice will taste the “ripest” because the wine is very young. Therefore, sometimes is sold as Joven or young on the label.

Crianza: For a wine to be labeled a Crianza, it must spend a minimum of 1 year in oak. Following its removal from oak, the wine must spend at least another few months in the bottle, before being sold. This is the level of Rioja that is most affordable.

Reserva: This is a Rioja made from the best grapes of the harvest, and is only made during years that were considered to have a good growing season. A Reserva must be aged a minimum of 3 years, with at least one year being in oak, and the rest in the bottle.

Gran Reserva: This is a Rioja that is only allowed to be made in years with exceptional growing seasons from the most exceptional grapes harvested. Gran Reserva’s must be aged in oak for at least 2 years, and then must spend at least 3 more years in the bottle.

Rioja wines are aged in 225-liters oak casks, with periodic racking, followed by a further period of bottle ageing. There are about 567 ageing bodegas in Rioja. The Rioja wine region is located in northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The local terrain perfectly delimits the region and sets it apart from surrounding territories. From an administrative point of view, however, its 63,593 hectares of vineyards are divided between three provinces on the Upper Ebro – La Rioja (Rioja Alta) (43,885 ha), Alava (Alavesa) (12,934 ha) and Navarra ( Rioja Baja)  (6,774 ha). The grape varieties that are currently authorised by the Regulations of the D. O. Ca. Rioja are:

RED: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo, and Maturana Tinta.

WHITE: Viura, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Maturana Blanca, Turruntés, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Verdejo.

To help with the ranking of harvest years  ,which are only to be used as a general rule, the most important one is who is the producer. These are the rating on last few years from the wine council. , 2016 MB( Very good), 2017 MB, 2018 Buena (Good), 2019 (Excellent), 2020, MB (Very good).

Rioja wines are protected by the oldest Designation of Origin in Spain, officially recognised in 1926. In 1991, it was awarded the highest category -Calificada- making Rioja the first designation in Spain to be so honored.(now there are two ), To learn more of Rioja from official sources see the Rioja denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOC) webpage:

If you can read Spanish you can see this site to learn all about the Rioja from harvest to the bottle.  Webpage :

And on the same site, you can find information just by knowing either the name of the label or the town from where it comes from here in Spanish webpage :

An Apolo y Baco webpage, that I have below in my blogroll ,and I help input info when it began many years ago, now much better. IN Spanish, but you have all info here even contact information for all Bodegas in Spain. Webpage :

The recent interest by consumers to know the world of wines has push for new sites to spread the culture of wine and tourism. One example of this is the case of the Vivanco museum or  Museo Vivanco, an initiative of the family with 9000 m2 of property offering a tour on the culture of wines from antiquity to our days thru their expositions and activities. The thematic center of the  Vino Villa Lucia, opened in 2000 in Laguardia,is also offering a didactic tour with interactive action on the growing of grapes  with seminars and conferences such as the forum of tourism Enogastronomic in the route of the wines of Rioja Alavesa or the Foro de Turismo Enogastronómico de la Ruta del Vino de Rioja Alavesa. More info in Spanish here

More on museo Vivanco here in English:

Vino Villa lucia here in Spanish:

Rioja offers the possibility of enjoying many events and activities relating to wines such as the tastings on the neighborhood of the Station or Cata del Barrio de la Estación, an initiative of the wineries association of Haro or Asociación de Bodegas del Barrio de la Estación de Haro. It hopes to consolidate this space with other enotourism destinations in the world to enjoy a weekend with wines from seven Spanish wineries.  The municipality of Aldeanueva de Ebro  with Entreviñas, a festival of different activities from professional days to visit to wineries, wine fair, tastings, contests and music.

The Cata Estacion in English here:

Entreviñas here:

The program of the route of wines of Spain or Rutas del Vino de España was established to promote the wine tourism thru vineyards, wineries and places of interest related to them. In the denomination area of Rioja or D.O. Ca. Rioja to create two routes of wines: the Rioja alavesa or Ruta del Vino de Rioja Alavesa  and the Rioja Alta or Ruta del vino de Rioja Alta.  Currently there is work on creating the Rioja Baja or Ruta del Vino de Rioja Baja, already with more than 60 bodegas and the Villa Lucía. At Elciego, with the wine city of Marques de Riscal or  Ciudad del Vino de la bodega Marqués de Riscal, and in Labastida, the birthplace of Rioja are a must visits. The Ruta del Vino de Rioja Alta is found in the autonomous community of La Rioja where historically the culture of wines was developed in this region.  Amongt it’s more remarkable buildings are a rich historical and artistic heritage such as the  Monasterio de San Millán de la Cogolla, Monasterio de Santa María La Real de Nájera, the city of Haro, and the small medieval town of Briones etc.  There is ,also, a wonderful natural surrounding with the vineyards that connects the valley of Ebro or valle del Ebro with the sierra de la Demanda to the south and the Montes Obarenes to the west and going thru the valleys of the rivers Najerilla, Tirón, and Oja.

Many activities such as the battle of the wine or Batalla del Vino held from June 29 in Haro with rival disputes on the city of Miranda, Burgos. The participants dressed in white and on the footsteps of the ermitage or Ermita de San Felices, and twisted streets of Bilibio, they throw red wines at each others on the streets! More in Spanish here:

OF course, it would not be complete if I do not give some of my best bottles of Rioja wines. Again, the main thing is the producer, if he/she/they are good, the bottles eventually will be good on any given year, all else been equal. I stick to them over the years and never disappointed. Of course, again, tastes differ and new ones are coming in the market, and we should try to taste ,but these will never disappoints . Enjoy the wines, even if not all with photos….. Disfruten de los vinos de la Rioja, mi España!

Ramon Bilbao , Marqués de Riscal ,Bodegas Palacio, Unión Vitivinícola, S.A. better known as Marqués de Caceres , Montecillo, S.A.  part of the group Osborne , Bodegas Lan, CVNE is Compañia Viñicola del Norte de España, Bodegas Bilbaínas, S.A. part of group  Codorniu, Bodegas Muga , Bodega Lopez de Heredia, Bodega Rioja Alta , Bodegas Berceo, S.A.  part of Group Gurpegui , Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta , Campo Viejo, S.A.  part of Pernod Ricard group , Bodegas Baron de Ley , Bodegas Luis Gurpegui Muga S.A. part of Manzano Entreprises group  , and Bodegas Beronia.

And you can’t come to these bodegas ,you can shop their wine in your local wine shop or as I past by Madrid quite often ,I get mine at Lavinia, Calle Ortega y Gasset store. webpage:

And another old time favorite in Madrid is Santa Cecilia at Calle Bravo Murillo location. webpage:

There you folks, now you have a choice go out and try them, love them you will. The Rioja is the best known of Spain, and for good reason, Hope you enjoy the post as I ! And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all !!!

2 Comments to “The wines of La Rioja, Spain!”

  1. Wonderful!!! I love the part about moderation!!!! So important to enjoy the best things in life.

    Liked by 1 person

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