Rioja rocks

28 June, 2016

“But in any event, as we only arrived in Rioja relatively recently, we are actually not in a position to give advice to organisations such as the Consejo Regulador that have an impressive institutional history of many years of success.”


Moving on to what is going on in the vineyards, Rioja Alta’s Agudo says: “Some minor varieties are not being planted. Graciano, Mazuelo and even Garnacha are being replaced by Tempranillo. We are making an effort planting Garnacha and Graciano, since we think it would increase the quality and personality of our brands.”

Pernod’s Barré says: “White wines from Rioja are growing with new varieties such as Verdejo and Tempranillo white. Well vinified Viura reach excellent levels of complexity allowing them to compete with other premium international white wine origins.

“Rioja reds are now moving to fresher, fruitier styles and wood is less present or better integrated. The Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva classification is an excellent indicator of quality but it’s not the only one and young wines (less than 12 months in oak for reds) are reaching top quality levels.”

Faustino’s Alonso says: “Balance is needed between not compromising on quality in favour of volume-driving strategies. The key trends of the appellation of origin are introducing new grape varieties in order to diversify and keep our identity and distinction.

“The conclusions of the strategic plan 2020 of the wines of Rioja point out that there is an important opportunity of growth in the worldwide white wine market.

“For this reason, in 2007, they added new white grapes: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, white Maturana and white Tempranillo to the list of grapes authorised by the council. Consequently, there is an important above-the-line campaign to improve awareness on this direction,” says Alonso.

Chris Appleby, of Sogrape-owned Bodegas Lan, acknowledges that

there was a lack of understanding in the region the past of the use of oak, leading to heavy, oak-laden wines. He says Lan has been at the forefront of modern winemaking in Rioja, exploring and improving the traditions of

the region.

Appleby says: “Examples of this include studying the effects of oak-ageing on red Rioja wines, being first in the region to use oak barrels made from a combination of American and French oak, and pioneering the use of Russian oak.

“The wines, which are all vinified and aged separately by winemaker Maria Barúa, express the influence of the past with a modern approach.

“A high component of the fruit for Bodegas Lan wines comes from the Lanciano vineyard, which has 72ha under vine, making it one of the largest single estates in the region.”


Sparkling and rosé wines, along with fruit-flavoured wines and lower-alcohol wines, have been accounting for much of the significant growth in the overall wine category. Are Rioja producers looking at those categories?

Pernod’s Barré says: “Sparkling from Rioja will be extremely limited due to grape availability and cost. Additionally, the Rioja DOC should be careful not to confuse consumers by offering too large a portfolio of products which are not really true to the region.

“Rosé is starting to grow on the back of rosé de Provence growth but it is too early to say if it will be a real long-term success or just a temporary one.”

Barré adds: “Lower-alcohol is a global trend and Rioja DOC should be watching and following this trend as there is growing interest from consumers worldwide, taking into account two parameters: to be labelled ‘wine’ it has to be more than 9% and, technically, producing a low-alcohol wine is an everyday challenge due to global warming.”

Viejo’s Ardell says: “For us, the big opportunity is white wine. There have always been white wines in Rioja but the region is best known for its reds and that has been our focus.

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