Spanish Wine Regions: Rioja Article -
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Spanish Wine Regions: Rioja

Drenched in sunshine, Spain's fruits of the vine do just fine.

From big rich reds to fresh, crisp whites, from fruity rosés to fortified sherries to sparkling wines--Spain does it all.

The Reds of Rioja

The reds from Rioja are no doubt Spain's best known and most admired wines. They are made primarily with Tempranillo grapes blended with a handful of others. Because of their great aging potential and flavor profile, Rioja wines are sometimes compared to the best wines of Bordeaux.

Rioja wines are named for the region. The name itself is a mash-up of the words Rio (meaning, "river") and Oja, the name of a tributary that feeds into the Ebro. The wine growing area is a hot, dry section of north-central Spain just west of Navarra, running from just below Bilbao toward the south along the Ebro River. The Pyrenees Mountains shield the vineyards from lashing wind and rains blowing in over the Bay of Biscay. The region is separated into three parts: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. Climate and soils differ in each of these sub-regions, and often juice from more than one sub-region is blended together to create a certain style.

Wine labels from Rioja often display the words Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva, which refer to the amount of time each has spent in barrel and bottle before release. Barrel time can add additional layers of flavor (vanilla, cedar) to these full-bodied red wines. Of the three classifications, Gran Reserva are the longest aged and are made from grapes of exceptional vintages.

What's in a Name?

The grape that produces some of the best wines in Spain, from Gran Reserva Rioja to the fashionable and high-priced red wines of Ribero del Duero, goes by many different names.

In Rioja and Navarra, we know it as Tempranillo. Yet, down the road in La Mancha, it goes by the name Cencibel. (How sensible is that?) On the southeastern coast, Catalonians call it Ull de Llebre (eye of the rabbit). Arriving in Ribera del Duero, you might refer to it once as Tinta de Pais and then again as Tinto Fino. Which is fine, but in Toro, you'll be asked to identify it as Tinta de Toro. Just don't try that in Madrid, where it goes by Tinto de Madrid.

The grape is one of international mystery, as well. It steps across the border into Portugal and becomes Tinta Roriz.

It seems every region wants a piece of this native Spanish grape, to call it their own, to have some unique connection to it. Happily, the wines it makes taste just as good by any name you give it.

    The Healthy Gorrmet 
    Jul. 5, 2009 11:46 am
    I loved the education about Spanish wine which I knew very little about!
    Feb. 20, 2011 8:42 am
    I tried the wine and love it. I've always been a California and German wine guy but think I may have to add Spain to the list
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