Rioja, the finest wine production region of Spain, lies in a north-central locale on a 1,500 foot plateau sheltered to the north by the Cantabrian Mountains. By reducing the region's strong winds, the Cantabrians moderate the continental climate of the viticultural area. The soil is primarily clay with chalk and iron along with alluvial deposits, volcanic material and limestone. The region receives 12-20 inches of rain annually and benefits from having the primary estuary of the country, the Ebro river, running through it.
The Rioja is subdivided into the Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. The Alta is on the northwestern edge at a higher elevation where the growing season is shorter resulting in wines that are "old world" style. Bottled in bordeaux bottles, these wines tend to be lighter on the palate. The Alavesa region wines are fuller, riper with a higher acidity and are bottled in burgundy bottles. The Baja region to the south has a more mediterranean (warmer/drier) climate and it's production is typically blended into the others.
The earliest documentation of wine production in Rioja dates to 873AD. That reference was monastic in origin and indicated that the culture was ongoing at that time. In 1102 the King of Spain legalized the Rioja wine producing district. In 1650 quality protection documentation was introduced. By the 18th century French winemaking in Bordeaux began to influence the Spanish in Rioja primarily with oak barrel aging. In the 20th century a series of laws were passed all aimed at guaranteeing the quality of wine bearing the Rioja name. DOC (Denominacion de Origen) laws guaranteeing the product origin finally were enacted in 1970 with Rioja being the first recognized DOCa (Denominacion de Origen Calificada)in 1991. The Rioja stamp on wine bottle labels from the region was enacted with the 2008 vintage.
85% of Rioja wine is red with the typical blend being 60% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, and 20% Syrah although other historic minor grape varieties contibute to the blend. The white wine from Rioja is primarily Viura (Macabeo) based with Garnacha Blanco and Malvasia included. Because Spain's wine industry is more commercial than other Europeans, small amounts of Cabernet and Merlot are now allowed in the red blends if their quality is assured.
Cune (Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espania) is one of the region's best traditional producers. Recently we have offered their Rioja Blanco and Monopole whites. These two flavorful wines are bright, fresh, and lemony with good acidity. The unoaked Blanco retails for $13/btl; the Monopole (American oak), $15/btl. The Cune Crianza Red is expected in this week at a $13 retail. Cite this article and try them all for $35. If you want to try just one, make it the Blanco.
Happy Mother's Day