All about Rioja


The jewel in Spain’s fine wine crown is Rioja, a region characterised by an ancient legacy of viticulture and an ideal climate for producing exceptional wines. Wine has been made here since before the arrival of the Romans and the region’s mountainous slopes and peaceful river plains are peppered with both long-established noble estates and groundbreaking modern producers. These days it’s a rich hunting ground for investors keen to expand their fine wine portfolio and acquire bottles which will age beautifully and grow in value in the years to come.

Rioja is best known for its rich and smooth red wines made from Tempranillo which is often blended with some Garnacha and Graciano. The king of the region is Tempranillo which contributes intense fruit flavours and complexity, while Garnacha adds rich fruit and boosts alcohol levels and Graciano brings freshness and helps the wines to age gracefully. The region also produces some white wines made from Viura and Malvasia grapes.

Geographically Rioja is divided into three distinct subregions which each have slightly different climatic and soil conditions. Lying to the north of the River Ebro, Rioja Alta is the coolest region with high rainfall which produces elegant wines which are typically fresher and lighter. On the other side of the river is Rioja Alta which boasts clay soils rich in iron which favour the Tempranillo grape. Conditions here are slightly warmer and drier, crafting richer and more deeply coloured red wines than their northerly neighbours. The final subregion is the south-eastern Rioja Baja which enjoys more continental climatic influence with hotter summers suited the Garnacha grape. Wines made here are usually riper, richer and fuller bodied.

Traditionally Rioja red and white wines were characterised by long ageing in both oak barrels and in the bottle before release to the market. Today winemaking practices have been modernised, but the hierarchy of Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva labels remains important.

According to the regulations of the region’s regulatory body, Crianza wines must be aged in oak for one year followed by one year of mandatory ageing in the bottle, while Reserva wines must be aged for at least three years of which one must be spent in oak barrels. At the top of the ranks are the Gran Reserva wines which require five years of total ageing of which two must be spent in oak barrels.

Rioja has over 1200 producers but only a handful produce investment-grade wines. One leading light is the Artadi estate which is based in Rioja Alavesa and is home to the legendary 2 hectare El Pison vineyard planted in 1945. The estate focuses on single vineyard wines which capture the nuances of the property’s blessed terroir and have tremendous ageing potential. These wines make stunning additions to any fine wine investment portfolio, adding a touch of Spanish flair as well as excellent growth potential.

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