Rethinking Rioja

Rethinking Rioja

Updated on 11 December 2018 • Written By SquareMeal

Rethinking Rioja

One of the world’s great wine regions is about to get even more exciting, thanks to changes that will drive Rioja’s diverse range of wines on to greater heights of excellence.

Rioja – already famed for its varied and versatile range of excellent-quality, great-value wines – is about to get even more exciting, with a number of changes set to reinforce its pre-eminent position as one of the world’s great wine regions.

Rioja barrels

Part of the secret to Rioja’s enduring appeal and success with wine drinkers is the region’s refusal to stand still – always looking to move forward and improve the quality and depth of its wines. If you know Rioja only for its rich, full-bodied and good-value red wines – so suited to the hearty comfort food that we all enjoy at this time of the year – then it’s time to think again.

The current shake-up of Rioja’s wine classification system, which is part of a broader campaign entitled ‘Saber quién eres’ or ‘Knowing who you are’, encompasses a range of measures that will make the region’s wines even more compelling and diverse – covering everything from supple, warming red wines to fresh, zesty whites.

The changes allow wineries to put the names of single vineyards (Viñedos Singulares) on the label for the first time, as well as those of villages or communes (Vinos de Muncipio) and of zones (Vinos de Zona, including Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja, now known as Rioja Oriental) – all enhancing Rioja’s already strong reputation for authenticity and provenance.

Tractor in a vineyard

The region is also set to put its name to sparkling wines for the first time, under the Espumosos de Calidad label, with the first wines scheduled for release in 2019, while single varietal white wines from a range of traditional and international grape varieties are now also permitted.

All of these measures will enhance Rioja’s long-held reputation for quality, diversity and value for money, combining age-old tradition with modern relevance in a way in which few wine regions in the world are capable.

As José Luis Lapuente, director of Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja, observes: “Rioja is constantly improving, reviewing its definitions and strengthening what it currently offers with new geographical indications. The goal is to highlight the unique origin of the terroir, recognise its diversity, and to continue to establish quality requirements which assure the high standard of its wines.”

Rioja fields

Rioja Recognises

Every year, Rioja shows its appreciation for the people who work tirelessly to promote the excellence of the region’s wines with the Rioja Recognises awards. The 2018 nominees were swift to sing the praises of the quality, diversity and value for money that Rioja provides: Owen Morgan, director of Spanish bar and restaurant group Bar 44 – which won the On Trade Ambassador of the Year prize – said that, when it comes to Rioja, “consistency, reliability, quality and tradition come to mind”.

Rioja wines logo

Similarly, Mike Stanton of retailer Corks Out, named Off Trade Ambassador of the Year, talked of Rioja’s broad appeal, tradition and excitement, while Communicator of the Year, Raul Diaz, praised Rioja’s “truly amazing” consistency and quality.

This year’s Outstanding Contribution award went to Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW for his work in promoting Rioja around the world. He spoke of Rioja’s lasting appeal, built on its capacity “to offer wine lovers a huge range of profiles… while keeping an air of family.”