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ebro-in-rioja.jpgThe region of Rioja has nearly 65,000 hectares under vine, most of which (51,000 ha) is Tempranillo.  Other important varieties are Garnacha (Grenache) with 6,100ha, Viura (4,000ha) and a little Mazuelo and Graciano (around 1,000ha each).  The majority of the wines are Tempranillo (either varietal or with other varieties blended in), although a number of wines are Garnacha-based.  Virtually all white Rioja is Viura.

There are three main areas or regions of Rioja: Rioja Alavesa; Rioja Alta and Rioja Basa.  Rioja Alta is the western-most, high-altitude area, with heavier, clay-based soils.  Rioja Alavesa (which is effectively a separate country, as it’s Basque) has limestone-based soils, producing finer wines.  Finally the larger Rioja Basa is lower altitude, located in the western portion of the region, with a much hotter climate and varied soil types.

rioja.jpgThe style of Riojan wine has changed over time.  Until the early 1970s it was juicy, somewhat light and slightly oaky styles, occasionally excellent but usually average if consistent in quality, where most wines were blended and as a result, perhaps a little bland.  As large companies took over the local bodegas and co-operatives, quality declined further as the product was effectively homogenised.  Thankfully in the last 20 or so years an increased number of small, quality-minded produces have stepped up the quality, and the individuality of Rioja, focusing on specific sites (or at least sub-regions) and changing winemaking somewhat.  Gone, or at least reduced is the reliance on American oak, with small French casks now utilised widely, and longer and gentler maceration and fermentation of the grapes resulting in deeper, fresher and more fruit-driven wines.

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