The Rioja [ree-OH-hah] DOCa area is located in northern Spain around the town of Logroño and along the Ebro River. The name comes from Río Oja, a tributary of the Ebro. Established in 1926, Rioja was the first DO, and in 1991, it became the first Spanish DOCa. Wine has been made in this region since before the Roman occupation or for more than 2,500 years. Rioja DOCa table wines are the most famous as well as some of the best wines produced in Spain.
Rioja’s vineyards are situated in the provinces of Alava and Navarra as well as La Rioja. The DOCa is divided into three subzones: La Rioja Alavesa in the northwest, La Rioja Alta in the southwest, and La Rioja Baja in the east. The cooler, wetter climate of the two western subzones produces more delicate wines. The hotter, drier eastern section, La Rioja Baja, produces bigger, more alcoholic wines. La Rioja Alta generally produces the best wines, followed by those from La Rioja Alavesa.
Rioja wines, which tend to be made in a Bordeaux style, are greatly influenced by winemaking practices introduced by French families who migrated to Rioja in the late 1800s after phylloxera struck the Bordeaux vineyards. The extensive use of oak barriques (called barricas locally) for aging wines still exists, although somewhat less aggressively than in the past. The oak imparts the familiar vanilla characteristic associated with Rioja wines. Red wines make up 75 to 80 percent of total production, and Tempranillo is the primary red grape used. Garnacha Tinta (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano are also allowed. A small quantity of Rosé wine is also made from these same grapes. A limited amount of white wine is made from Viura (Macabeo), Garnacha Blanca (Grenache) and Malvasia. In the past, the white wines from Rioja have also been heavily oaked, but fresher, crisper wines are now the style.
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