Spanish Wine – Rioja

For this column, we turn our attention to Spain, where viticulture and winemaking date back beyond 1000 B.C. While Spain currently ranks third in world wine production (behind France and Italy), the country ranks first in the amount of acreage planted to vines at over 3,000,000 acres. From these areas flow vast amounts of still, sparkling and fortified wines that are exported throughout the world.

While many people are familiar with the sparkling wines of the Cava DO (denominacion de origen) and the fortified Sherry wines from the Jerez DO, it is the red wines produced in several DO’s in northern Spain – particularly the area known as La Rioja – that bring worldwide recognition to Spanish wines.

Rioja is located in the far north-central part of Spain, about 60 miles from the Bay of Biscay and the southern border of France. Although the area is relatively close to the Atlantic Ocean, Rioja has a fairly dry climate, as it is shielded from the ocean’s influences by the Cantabrian Mountains directly to the north. Located at about 1,500 feet above sea level, Rioja stretches 75 miles from east to west along both banks of the Ebro River, and has about 135,000 acres under cultivation. The majority of the soils here are composed of clay, sandstone and alluvial silt, with high levels of chalk and iron.

The Rioja region is further divided into three sub-zones, Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. The vast majority of the grapes grown here are the Tempranillo varietal, and most of the wines produced here are predominately blends that are dominated by the grape. Other varietals allowed by law include Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan), and Graciano.

The best wines typically come from Rioja Alta or Rioja Alavesa, and all Rioja wines are classified into three categories, determined by the quality of the grapes that are used and most importantly, the amount of time the wines must be aged before being released. The aging requirements for red wines labeled Rioja are as follows:

Crianza: Must be aged for at least two years, one of which must be in oak barrels

Reserva: Must be aged for at least three years, one of which must be in oak barrels

Gran Reserva: Must be aged for at least five years, two years in oak barrels and three years in bottles.

The requirement that all quality Rioja wines must be aged in oak is unique in the world of wine production and gives the wine unmistakable characteristics, often described as similar to French Burgundy, with subtle vanilla, spice and cherry notes. Tasting notes for one our favorite examples follow:

Garcia Carrion Antaño Rioja Reserva 2005 Spain

Appearance: brilliant garnet with a light orange hue

Aroma: aromas of baked cherry pie and spice with a touch of green olive

Flavors: baked fruit flavors carry through to the palate with the green olive present

Finishing Notes: well balanced with spice and fruit notes carrying through and a light herbal tone on the finish

Food Pairing:

Rioja – Tempranillo dominant riojas pair well with grilled lamb, herb roasted or grilled vegetables, any sauces seasoned with rosemary, thyme, cilantro or oregano

Perfect Pairing:

– Rioja: Our example would pair nicely with a rosemary rubbed grilled rack of lamb with a mint glaze and accompanied by herb and olive oil marinated grilled zucchini and yellow squash

WINE:30 is written by Karl Bradley and Jody Wuollett. Karl and Jody are both long time residents of Door County and are employed at the Mission Grille in Sister Bay. They have both been awarded the first level of certification from the Court of the Master Sommeliers.

Weekly Wine Trivia

Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes are traditionally used to make what type of wine?

Email your answer to Karl & Jody at [email protected]. The first correct answer in their inbox will receive a complimentary bottle of wine from them. Cheers!

Last week’s trivia: What was traditionally used to train Lambrusco vines to raise them off the ground away from mildew?

Answer: Poplar Trees

Congratulations to our winner for last week’s wine trivia, and thanks for all the responses! Good luck this week.