As Spain’s oldest Designation of Origin, Rioja sets the benchmark and is the leading light for all its other prestigious regions to follow. Which makes the changes it has made recently to how producers can now label wine, with the introduction of new geographical indications to better reflect individual terroirs and Viñedo Singularos, important not just to the region, but the country as a whole. Here The Buyer and Wines from Rioja have teamed up to offer this concise summary of those main changes, alongside the personal views of leading Spanish and Rioja wine expert, Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW.
With so many changes taking place in Rioja here is a concise summary to bookmark and keep on top of.
Rioja’s Ageing Classification System
The Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja, located in northern Spain, spans both sides of the River Ebro. With more than 66,000 hectares of vineyards, the region is divided into three large zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Oriental. Each town and terroir has its own personality, making Rioja a unique land.
Rioja is known in the UK for its diversity of styles and premium offering. Rioja’s success in the UK as Spain’s highest-selling Spanish wine region, can be attributed to its long-established Ageing Classification system. This system uses the terms Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva to describe how long the wine has spent ageing in barrel and bottle, and also to give an indication of style (see graph below). Cl
Click here to find out about the different styles of winemaking.
Rioja looking ahead
‘Espumosos de Calidad de Rioja’
Since the end of 2017, the Rioja region has allowed the production of quality white and rosé sparkling wines. With this new addition to the Rioja portfolio, the region takes its ageing tradition one step further. The minimum second fermentation period required for Espumosos de Calidad de Rioja is 15 months, then 24 months in the Reserva category, and 36 months in the Gran Añada category.
Wines are made using the traditional method and limiting sugar content so that you can expect to see only Brut, Extra Brut, and Brut Nature in the market. The production of sparkling wines in Rioja is small but has a history spanning well over a century in some wineries.
Classifications By Origin
From 2017, Rioja has wines that place the focus on their specific origin or terroir. The aim of the new geographical indications is to recognise a wine’s unique origin and reflect the diversity of the region within a framework which assures the quality of the wines.
The new geographical indications respect and complement the traditional blend-based wines and join the classic ageing categories that traditionally identify and give prestige to Rioja wines, offering recognisable quality to consumers across the world. These new indications include Vinos de Zona, Vinos de Municipio and Viñedos Singulares (different from single vineyard).
Vino de Zona
This is an update on labelling that is already permitted. Wineries have been permitted to reference their zone of production and since 1998 and to reference village or town since 1999. These zones were previously referred to as sub- regions and include Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Oriental. In 2017, there were a series of improvements to these regulations in order to achieve greater visibility for villages and zones.
Vino de Municipio
As in the case of wines from a specific zone, the right to use the name of the town on the label has been recognised for almost 20 years; more precisely, since 1999. The new regulation provides more visibility to this geographical indication.
The new Viñedo Singular geographical indication designates wines from particular vineyards or estates and is directly linked to the terroir. The regulation aims to highlight the origin of the wine and reflect the diversity offered by Rioja today.
Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW: What these changes mean for Rioja
Leading Spanish wine critic, and Rioja specialist, Pedro Ballesteros MW, has been working closely with the Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja, communicating about the many changes that have taken place to its regulations. Here he shares his views on what differences he thinks they will make to Rioja, its wines and producers.
How long have you been involved in working and consulting and writing about Rioja?
I followed part of my Master in Viticulture & Enology in Rioja, more than 30 years ago. From that moment on, I kept a relationship with the region in a variety of forms.
What big changes have you seen in terms of winemaking styles and quality over that time?
Huge changes. The most relevant ones are, for me, the amazing increase of diversity of styles and self-confidence all throughout the region.
What makes Rioja as a region so special to you?
It’s a unique combination of landscapes, climates, history and people, resulting in a variety of wines with well-defined characters and top quality.
Why do you think it is a region that resonates so much with consumers?
The region delivers quality and volume. Average consumers have easy access to Rioja; those that become wine lovers can have a long a joyous journey getting up the quality ladder.
What do you think of the new geographical indications that have been introduced?
It was a necessary measure. It is not going to result in better quality, or to replace anything, this is the producer’s business, but in better protection of names and guarantees for consumers .
What big difference do you think it will have on producers and the kinds of wines they like?
It depends on the market. In principle, Viñedos Singulares should be top quality wines coming from a specific terroir. They are not necessarily better than classic blends, but are likely to be different. Vintage variation will become even more important than now. I assume that some years the best producers will decide not to put in the market Viñedos Singulares. It is quite likely that a few new icons will be created, since there is a legal protection now.
Any of the changes that you think are the most significant?
The freedom to decide the style of the wines; they are not compulsory associated to ageing.
What styles of wine do you think we will start to see as a result of the new GIs?
I do not expect that this category will have influence on Gran Reserva, at least not yet. But I hope it will have in the future, I’m really convinced on the unique capacity of great Rioja to improve with oak ageing). I expect that new wines with a style closely associated with their vineyard, as some of the existing icons, will be produced. Not only with Tempranillo; Garnacha can release great wines.
- To find out more about the region of Rioja then visit the main website of Wines From Rioja here.