The name of Spain’s most famous red wine comes from the region of La Rioja. The first part name comes from ‘río’ – Spanish for river – and the second part from the name of river itself, the ‘Oja’.
The invading Romans found the local tribespeople treading grapes in stone troughs and running the fermenting juice off into cisterns and amphorae.
Wine was always needed for the occupying forces it was in Rome’s best interest to develop this industry along its ever expanding network of roads. The legions showed the local people, as they did wherever they went, how to maximise the potential of their grapes and make better wine.
Much of Italy, France and Germany owes its early winemaking technology to Rome. Wine was such an important part of the local economy that even the Moorish invaders, with their strict rules on alcohol, could not stamp it out entirely.
The19th century saw the first real changes in wine technology since Roman times when, in 1858, Don Camilo Hurtado de Amezaga planted his first vines in Elciego. Spanish wine in general, and Rioja in particular, would never be the same again.
Within the region of La Rioja, there are three areas with slightly different climates and soil. These are the Rioja Alta (Upper Rioja, capital Haro), to the west, the Rioja Baja (Lower Rioja, capital Logroño) to the east and the Rioja Alavesa to the north, outside the province of La Rioja altogether.
Wine from the Rioja Alavesa is characteristically made from the tempranillo grape and is fruity and drunk young. The Rioja Baja produces wines from the garnacha grape which tend to be heavy and have a high alcohol content.
The Rioja Alta produces the most sophisticated wines, usually based on the tempranillo grape variety. They tend to be delicate in flavour and mature well, and are the wines of most interest to collectors.
La Rioja wine is classified into four types, according to quality and aging. The aging process takes place in either barrels or bottles.
Vino de crianza: min. 1 year (barrel) min. 6 months (bottle)
Vino de reserva min: 1 year (barrel) min. 2 years (bottle)
Vino de gran reserva: min. 2 years (barrel) min 3 year (bottle)