With live events out of the picture this year, Rioja Wine UK developed a series of interactive Rioja Wine Academy Bootcamp online webinars to keep the region alive for the wine trade this autumn. Hosted by Tim Atkin MW and Sarah Jane Evans MW, these ‘voyages of discovery’ were created to offer an accessible and refreshing way of learning about Spain’s leading wine region and also shine a light on the Rioja Wine Academy resource – a free online educational platform dedicated to Rioja for trade and consumers alike. Mike Turner attended one of the Bootcamps and explains what the Rioja Wine Academy has in store for us.
Less of us have experience with Rioja’s whites but, as Atkin pointed out, their greater availability is arguably the most exciting development in Rioja in the last ten years.
A few weeks ago I joined the ‘This is Rioja’ Bootcamp with Tim Atkin MW – the second in a series of four tastings, hosted in alternating order by wine luminaries and Rioja-philes Sarah Jane Evans MW and Tim Atkin MW. The four Rioja Wine Academy Bootcamp virtual tasting sessions covered everything that makes the Rioja region and its wines so special.
This is Rioja
Tim Atkin’s love and in-depth knowledge of the Rioja region comes to life as soon as he mentions the word “Rioja”. His opening remarks planted the seed for why we were there; “Rioja is a wine region we think we know, but we don’t. It really is the land of a thousand wines, with a style we’re familiar with, but with details that are often unclear.”
The opening half an hour (the second half hour was devoted to a 6-wine tasting) saw Atkin enthusiastically take us on an audiovisual journey through the topography, climate, and trade structures of both Rioja as a whole, and its individual sub-zones of Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental. While there were some details which had you thinking back to your wine text books, Atkin did a great job at reminding the more knowledgeable attendees (whilst simultaneously teaching those new to the region) that, at times, there are stark differences in the challenges and opportunities facing producers from the three sub-zones of the region.
The session really showcased the top quality wines offered by the region and highlighted the opportunities inherent in the diversity that Rioja has to offer. Some key takeaways from the session were:
Classic styles and new stars
The styles of Rioja produced usually have many thinking of red wines aged in the classic Rioja ageing categories – Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva, which have historically been the main style drivers. While Atkin did indeed finish with three fabulous reds ticking those three particular style boxes, it was the whites that showed just what else Rioja is capable of.
Less of us have experience with Rioja’s whites but, as Atkin pointed out, their greater availability is arguably the most exciting development in Rioja in the last ten years. Our tasting began with a high altitude, old-vine-Viura-dominant blend with great floral notes, citrus, and nuttiness. The second white was a skin contact (Amber or Orange if you prefer) wine, again from high altitude sites, but whose flavour profile oozed with apples and butterscotch. The variety of styles and the increasing confidence of winemakers to produce those styles are both impressive and huge sources of continuing and future interest in Rioja.
Challenges and opportunities of climate change
Rioja is no different to the rest of the world in that it faces challenges, and opportunities, with regards to climate change. The region has been hotting up since 2001, with last year the town of Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa recording an entire week in June of temperatures in excess of 40oC. On the one hand, regions that have historically been warmer and drier, i.e. those in the Oriental to the east, have to be increasingly careful with varietal and clonal selection. On the other hand, ‘marginal areas’ in the north are a lot less marginal than they were 30 years ago, with Tempranillo now ripening relatively consistently across Alavesa and Alta.
Rioja loosely follows the path of the Ebro River for about 120km (west to east), but the terroir up and down the 40km (north to south) offers plenty of diversity. From the high altitude, clay-limestone, Tempranillo vineyards of Rioja Alavesa to the lower altitude, alluvial, Garnacha-dominant vineyards of Rioja Oriental, there is clearly plenty of variation for grape growers. Rainfall and sunshine hours are subject to the proximity of the Bay of Biscay over the mountains to the north or to the Mediterranean in the south and east.
Learn more about Rioja with the Rioja Wine Academy
The autumn Rioja Wine Academy Bootcamp series has now come to an end but fear not, it’s still possible to learn about Spain’s flagship wine region via the Rioja Wine Academy’s free online courses. Launched earlier this year, the Rioja Wine Academy is a fantastic new online platform offering free educational courses for those wishing to learn about Rioja wine. With the Rioja Wine Academy, Rioja is ensuring that the UK’s wine lovers, both trade and private, will increase their buy-in to the region. The UK’s love affair with Rioja looks set to continue.
For those keen to know more, the courses on offer include:
This course covers everything a future Rioja wine expert needs to know: the territory, grape varietals, the human element, the styles of wine, classifications, regulations on viticulture and aspects of production, gastronomy and history.
This course is ideal for those wishing to obtain training in both Rioja and wine tourism. It includes aspects such as public relations of wineries and agencies that specialise in tours and visits.
The aim of this course is to convey the positioning of Rioja in the domestic and international markets, as well as establishing the foundations of wine marketing.
This course is for trade professionals seeking to become accredited Rioja DOCa educators.
To register for a course head to riojawineacademy.com. You can study at your own pace and take the exam when you feel ready.