This episode of “Wine 101” is sponsored by Las Rocas Wine. Las Rocas Wines hail from an arid, hilly area within the northeast of Spain, the place the air is dry and the terrain is unforgiving. Towards all odds, Garnacha vines thrive right here on these steep, rocky slopes, producing grapes with a signature palate of spice and minerality. These strong vines, some greater than 100 years outdated, lend their full of life spirit and character to all Las Rocas wines. Pattern the wealthy and full-bodied flavors of Spain: Las Rocas Wine.
On this episode of “Wine 101,” VinePair tastings director Keith Beavers discusses all issues Rioja. Listeners will be taught concerning the very small area that produces a few of Spain’s most interesting wine. That area, a province referred to as La Rioja, has a wealthy, distinctive historical past relationship again to the mid-19th century.
Rioja made a reputation for itself due to French winemakers and the barrels they dropped at the area. Beavers additionally explains that Rioja is exclusive in that it isn’t outlined by any political boundaries. That freedom, Beavers says, has resulted in wines with a distinguished place on the American market.
Tune in to grow to be an knowledgeable on wines from Rioja.
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Keith Beavers: My title is Keith Beavers. And beavers, how cool are beavers? They’re superior.
What’s happening, wine lovers? Welcome to Episode 11 of VinePair’s “Wine 101” podcast, Season 2. My title is Keith Beavers. I’m the tasting director of VinePair. How are you? Now we’re getting well-known. We’re speaking about probably the most well-known wine area in Spain, it’s referred to as Rioja. It’s not that large, however it has a variety of fascinating stuff. Let’s get to know Rioja. What do you say?
Rioja is a phrase that I consider, in the event you’re into wine in the USA, you’ve heard. It’d really be the one phrase or the one wine from Spain that you will have heard of. Wines from the Rioja area of Spain are probably the most distinguished Spanish wines on our market. That’s altering dramatically. There have all the time been different Spanish wines on our market. However so far as getting eyeballs on it and understanding it, Rioja has had a spot on the American market that different Spanish wines haven’t. This isn’t an official assertion, however I personally consider that Rioja is Spain’s fine-wine area. There’s different wonderful wine throughout, don’t get me unsuitable: Priorat, Ribera Del Duero. There are nice wines throughout Spain. I’m simply saying there’s a status that Rioja has that different wine areas in Spain don’t. That status is what we all know on the American market, however what do we actually find out about Rioja? We get that it’s from Spain. A few of us would possibly know that it’s Tempranillo and perhaps another varieties. A few of us might know phrases like Crianza, and Gran Reserva. What does all of it imply? Let’s break down Rioja as a result of it’s on our market, and it’s nice stuff. It’s superior wine. Let’s perceive somewhat bit extra so whenever you do go and purchase a Rioja wine, you recognize what you’re .
Simply inland from the coast of northeast Spain is a spread of mountains referred to as Sierra de Cantabria. In the event you cross the Cantabrian Mountain vary, you go right into a valley, in fact, and that valley has a river that is named the Ebro River. In the event you carry on going even additional south by way of the valley, you’ll see one other mountain vary referred to as Sierra de la Demanda. This valley, guided by the geological historical past of the Ebro River, flowing from the Cantabrian Mountains by way of this valley in direction of the Mediterranean, runs northwest to southeast. It’s on an angle, if you’ll. The mountain ranges on both aspect of this valley, as you go southeast, these mountains begin to get decrease and you progress right into a lower-elevation space, which can ultimately go into the Mediterranean. Within the northwestern nook of this valley, all the best way in direction of the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains, is a city referred to as Haro. There’s a small tributary of the Ebro River that flows into town of Haro. That river is named Oja. That river is what lends its title to the province that it exists in and the wine area that exists throughout the province. La Rioja. Rio Oja is principally what it means.
From the city of Haro, the Ebro River runs southeast by way of the capital of the area or province referred to as Logroño. Then, it passes and goes even additional south, then we get into the lower-lying areas. It passes a serious city referred to as Calahorra. Then, it ends in Alfaro, the city of Alfaro. You principally have 60-plus miles of the Ebro River. Spanning out from the banks of these rivers are vineyards. The vineyards principally simply run alongside the river, and so they unfold out. In the event you go to the northwestern a part of the river, it’s extra mountainous. They unfold out into the foothills of the Cantabrians. As you get down in direction of the Mediterranean, the vineyards unfold out in direction of the Mediterranean geography. That’s the wine area of Rioja. We’re going to get into the boundaries in a second as a result of it’s fascinating that almost all of this wine area is within the province of La Rioja, however it additionally dips into different locations just like the Basque region in a spot referred to as Navarre, which we’ll get into.
This little pocket, one of many smallest areas in Spain, the second smallest area in Spain — this little pocket of superior proper right here has been making wine for a really very long time. But, that is the factor speaking about European wine areas, it will get somewhat bit repetitive after some time — particularly with France, England, and Spain due to the similarities throughout antiquity and the Medieval occasions. When fashionable occasions come round, that’s when issues begin getting completely different.
In Spain, usually on this area, you’ll have had Roman rule and the wine was being made then. Then there was Moorish rule, which was Muslim, and so they tolerated winemaking however they weren’t allowed to drink it. Then after that, you’ll go into Medieval occasions. Everyone knows what occurred in Medieval occasions, the monks making wine in isolation, recording issues absolutely funded by the church, doing their factor, saving wine throughout Europe. The factor about this place is throughout all these occasions, the Rioja area was fairly remoted. It’s between two mountains. It’s very onerous to get to probably the most populated areas on the opposite aspect of the Cantabrian mountains in direction of the coast, going north. Nonetheless, when a commerce route was created to Bilbao, which is a port city within the Basque area on the north coast of Spain, that’s how the floodgates opened up with Rioja. That wasn’t how Rioja made itself Rioja. Rioja made itself Rioja due to French winemakers. Not likely, however form of. OK, let me clarify.
Within the mid-19th century, across the 1840s, a illness from North America made its method into the vineyards of Europe, particularly France. It’s referred to as powdery mildew. It’s a illness that assaults the inexperienced elements of vines and creates these spores that appear like spider webs. It retards the expansion of the plant. It interferes with sure development processes of a plant in order that it doesn’t absolutely type. It’s dangerous. It was so dangerous within the 1840s in Europe, particularly in France, that wine retailers left France and truly got here to the Rioja area of Spain. They started collaborating with winemakers in Rioja to make wine together with French concepts and French strains to promote wine that method. Mainly, leaving the individuals in France saying, “You guys determine your powdery mould stuff. We wine retailers are going to go over the Pyrenees to hang around with the Spanish over in La Rioja and make issues occur.”
Nicely, by the point the French had been over there doing this, there have been already business wineries opening up within the area that had been promoting to colonies. The Spanish colonies, really, and having fun with that commerce path to Bilbao. This time interval outlined the usual of wines being made in Rioja going ahead.
Then in 1901, the primary doc of Phylloxera in Rioja occurred. By that point, the French are again over the Pyrenees and again coping with their scenario over there. Phylloxera did come to Spain, to Rioja. From that interval till concerning the 1970s, a lot occurs with politics, economics, and it goes up and down. What’s essential concerning the Rioja area is to know what it’s at present, as a result of the factor is, it’s a area that’s altering. There are issues altering in Rioja, and sooner or later, we’re going to start out seeing extra nuances, extra particulars on wine labels. I’m not actually certain, however they’re speaking about it.
Let’s get an concept of what Rioja seems to be like and simply perceive it so wine purchasing might be enjoyable once more. As I mentioned earlier than, the wine area of Rioja is generally within the province of La Rioja. However a part of the northern borders of this wine area dip into different locations. A part of it dips into Álava, which is an autonomous area within the Basque nation. A part of it dips into Navarre, which is one other province. So far as terroir is worried, the Rioja area is cut up into three sections, which may be very fascinating as a result of these three sections don’t outline what you see on labels a lot. Nonetheless, it does outline what sort of wine is in your bottle. It’s somewhat bit complicated, and that’s why there are some issues happening on this wine area that they’re making an attempt to replace.
Think about a diagonal line. In the midst of that line, simply above it, Logroño, which is the capital of this area, is an axis level the place you possibly can see the place the wine areas are. On the japanese aspect of Logroño, on that diagonal line going southeast, that whole part to the top of that line is Rioja Baja. It was previously generally known as Rioja Baja, however it’s now referred to as Rioja Oriental. I’m telling you each since you’re going to listen to them each. That is the area that you simply’re going away from the elevation of the mountain in direction of the Mediterranean, a extra low-lying, fertile space. Again to the dot, that’s Logroño, the capital. The vast majority of the land to the west of Logroño is a wine-growing area referred to as Rioja Alta. Alta, which means tall. We’re entering into the foothills of the Cantabrians. It’s a extra hilly area, with poorer soils. These are the 2 large areas in Rioja. Now, simply northwest of the city of Logroño is a separate wine area that’s lower out of the Rioja Alta. Then, there’s one other little part that’s bisected on the opposite aspect, which is a small area they name Rioja Alavesa. The rationale they name it Alavesa is that that is the wine area that goes throughout the border and into the Basque area, right into a city referred to as Álava. Alavesa, Álava. We have now Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta, and Rioja Alavesa. These are the three fundamental areas of the Rioja wine-growing area.
Rioja is exclusive and stands other than different wine areas as a result of this wine area isn’t outlined by political boundaries, it’s outlined by geography alone. Dare I say terroir. When a wine area dips into different autonomous areas, it’s largely about that. The opposite distinctive factor about this area is how they classify their wine, which we’ll discuss in a second. White wine is made in Rioja. However whenever you’re at a wine store trying within the Rioja part, you’re going to see a variety of purple. It’s primarily a purple wine area and it’s typically blended. There are extra mono-varietal wines being made lately. I consider that it’s due to the French affect, there’s a mixing tradition happening right here. The No. 1 selection in Rioja is a purple grape referred to as Tempranillo. I’m certain you’ve heard of it. In the event you listened to the Spanish episode final season, you’ll know this. It’s the nation’s most ubiquitous grape selection or purple. I consider that’s over 80 p.c of the vines in Rioja. Additionally they develop Garnacha or Grenache, they develop a grape referred to as Mazuelo, which in different elements of Spain is named Cariñena and in different elements of the world referred to as Carignane. There’s the purple grape Graciano, which is usually blended with Tempranillo. Then, there’s this new one. It’s not new, it’s very outdated, however it’s rising. Winemakers are attempting to carry it out of obscurity and again into the world of Rioja.
The grape is named Maturana Tinta. I’ve by no means tried wines constituted of simply that grape. I don’t find out about the way it’s being blended, however there’s a variety of discuss this grape on this space. In Rioja, 85 p.c of the mix must be made up of those grapes, which is absolutely cool. These are all indigenous varieties. We’re not speaking about Cabernet or Syrah. In the event that they wished to place that in, it’s advantageous. Nevertheless it’s very fascinating that it’s not. It’s particularly these grapes from this area. It’s fairly cool. Sure, there may be Merlot, there may be Cabernet Sauvignon, however from what I perceive, they’re largely experimental vines, not distinguished within the blends. It’s largely simply these indigenous varieties.
It’s just about the identical with white wine. Despite the fact that there’s not a variety of white wine being made within the Rioja area, they’re very cool in the event you get an opportunity to test them out. They’re primarily blended with grapes like Viura, which can also be referred to as Macabeo in different elements of Spain. There’s Garnacha Blanca, a grape referred to as Malvasia, additionally the Maturana Blanca, which is the white model of the Maturana Tinta. The vast majority of the blends are made up of those varieties, however in fact there may be additionally Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, however like Cabernet and Merlot, they’re not predominantly a part of these blends.
As a serious wine area on the earth, the best way Rioja does wine may be very fascinating. To start with, there’s the geographic factor the place it’s not political, it’s geographical. That’s one very fascinating factor. The opposite fascinating factor is that almost all of the wine being made in Rioja traditionally was that you simply’d have these service provider bodegas. Bodega is a vineyard. There can be vine growers or grape growers that will provide these bodegas with wine. That’s the way it was performed. There have been additionally co-ops the place you had a big winemaking facility with a number of members, and often, that wine goes from the winery and funnels into these service provider bodegas. All these labels are created, and that’s how Rioja works or has labored. Now, there are wineries which have estates and may make their very own wine. Nonetheless, the service provider bodegas are how distinctive it’s in Rioja as a result of this occurred even by way of into fashionable occasions.
The opposite factor that’s distinctive to this space is how they classify their wine. For now — and issues are altering as I really say this — however the wines of Rioja are labeled particularly by how a lot time they age within the barrel and in oak. It’s labeled into three classes, really 4, however three main classes. The mixing may be very free. 85 p.c must be these grapes, however do no matter you need. It’s the ageing that defines.
These are the ageing classes. You might have crianza, reserva, and gran reserva. Crianza, which is loosely translated to “upbringing” or “to carry up.” For wines which might be labeled crianza, you’ll see it on the wine label. And on the again, you’ll see a purple sticker. That’s new. These wines must be launched of their third yr. For not less than 12 months of that point, the wine must be in oak barrels. For white wines, it’s solely six months. These are the youngish wines which might be tender, supple, fruity, and superior. They are often very leathery at occasions, too, relying on the mix, however they’re somewhat softer and youthful. If the wine says reserva on the label, on the again of the wine bottle you’ll see a burgundy-colored sticker. These wines even have a minimal ageing of three years, however a kind of years must be in barrel and 6 months must be in bottle earlier than launch. In the event you see gran reserva on the label, and it has a blue sticker on the again, these wines must be aged a complete of 60 months, with a minimal of two years in oak and one other two years in bottle. Each different wine from Rioja that you simply see that isn’t in these classes is taken into account generic. I do know it’s a bizarre phrase, however it doesn’t imply it’s dangerous. You’ll look behind the label and the sticker can be inexperienced, nearly avocado inexperienced. That’s wines that don’t adhere to those ageing necessities.
My thought is that the profit to that is the mixing of those wines may be very particular person to the winemaker or the particular person constructing the blends. I consider the blends are constructed to be crianza, reserva, or gran reserva. The period of time that you simply age these wines in, you need to have sure varieties which might be greater than different varieties. The vast majority of the purple wines you get from Rioja, even when it’s gran reserva, Tempranillo is a stupendous, medium-bodied sort wine. It has good acidity. It’s tender fruit. It provides me a Sangiovese vibe as a result of it has that acidity in medium fruit, and it’s good with meals. That’s why it’s actually nice when it’s blended with Graciano, Garnacha, Cariñena, or Mazuelo to provide it a bit extra physique, construction, and coloration.
One other fascinating factor about Rioja is when the French had been there serving to out, they introduced French barrels. French barrels have been within the Rioja area for the reason that late 1800s. Nonetheless, in some unspecified time in the future, they began favoring American oak. American oak is rather more influential on the wine than French oak. French oak is a bit more delicate. American oak is large, and it actually provides a variety of heft to a wine. These wines in Rioja are very elegant. They’re constructed based mostly on how the winemaker needs to age them. A gran reserva aged in American oak goes to be a pleasant medium- to full-bodied purple wine, however they’re utilizing French oak as nicely.
I would like to shut out with this, as a result of it’s occurring and already occurred however Rioja is focusing as we converse. Over the previous couple of years, they’ve redefined among the issues they’re doing. They’re making an attempt to focus extra on terroir. Within the Alavesa area, you’re allowed now to connect a village to your label, just like what they do in Burgundy. There are over 100 of them. And they’re doing single-vineyard stuff now. They’re having designations for single vineyards. All these new issues should not as distinguished on wine labels on our market. I simply need everybody to find out about it, as a result of that is the place Rioja goes. They’re getting extra targeted on terroir. We’re going to start out seeing extra issues on labels to assist us perceive the place the wine is from. Once we get there, in fact, VinePair will let you recognize all about it.
That’s Rioja in a nutshell. Subsequent time you’re at a wine store and also you’re trying on the Rioja part, you’ll know what you’re . Oh, and don’t fear concerning the netting. Some wine bottles have netting round them. It’s simply an aesthetic factor. Don’t fear about that. However take pleasure in Rioja. I hope you possibly can dig it. I hope this helps you perceive it extra, and I’ll see you, wine lovers, subsequent week.
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“Wine 101” was produced, recorded, and edited by yours actually, Keith Beavers, on the VinePair headquarters in New York Metropolis. I need to give a giant ol’ shout out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. And I imply large shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the artwork director of VinePair, for creating probably the most superior emblem for this podcast. Additionally, Darby Cicci for the theme track. Hearken to this. And I need to thank your entire VinePair employees for serving to me be taught one thing new on daily basis. See you subsequent week.