Rioja’s Minister for Tourism says Rioja is “a land full of history, light, color, vines, wheat and, above all, people who believe friendship is the greatest treasure.” Rioja is a unique land infused with history and blessed by a wine that shares its name. The Spanish Rioja wine is warm, friendly and distinct as the people who live in this special land between Spain’s capital city and the majestic Pyrenees Mountains. Rioja is the most accessible and well-known name in great Spanish wines and home to some of Spain’s best red wine deals.
The Rioja’s vineyards have influenced the history and character of Rioja’s people. The Romans settled in Iberia long before France was a major producer of wine. They pushed inland from Europe to reach the Ebro River’s headwaters and Rio Oja, which is where Rioja gets its name. The Romans created the ideal conditions in Rioja to cultivate exceptional Spanish grape varieties like Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo and Mazuelo. These grape varieties are today part of red Rioja. Rioja was awarded Spain’s first Denominacion de Origen (D.O.). This is a result of its history of producing high-quality red wines in 1933.
Rioja’s unique combination of red grapes and a lavish hiatus in small American oak barrels often results in a warm, dry, richly fruity red wine with great finesse. It can even appear almost immortal in exceptional vintages. While Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta are the most expensive Rioja red wines, a few Rioja names have high prices. Most red Rioja is grown on 132,000 acres in three distinct areas (Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja). Red Rioja is one of the most affordable red wines on the planet. These wines are sold for far less than comparable wines from other regions.
Red Rioja is available in four main styles: Joven (crianza), Reserva (reserva), and Gran Reserva (gran reserva). The designation is determined by the amount of oak barrel age and the time spent in the bottle before it was released. These styles start with Joven, aged in oak barrels for a few years, and end with Gran Reserva, which matures in oak barrels for at least two years. Gran Reserva cannot be sold before it turns five.
Joven, Crianza and Reserva are the best Rioja bargains. Red Rioja offers some great bargains: The 2014 Martinez Corta Ceps Antiguas Seleccion Privada is a vibrant Joven Rioja made from old vines. The 2012 Bodegas Montana Crianza is a smooth, aged Rioja that drinks as a fine Reserva.
The 2008 Valenciso Rioja Reserva is highly-acclaimed. However, it sells for significantly more than Joven and Crianza offerings. It still represents a bargain compared to French and Italian wines with comparable quality. Amezola de la Mora and La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza are also great red Rioja producers.