When the story of modern Rioja is written, Alavesa will have an outsized role to play. The smallest of Rioja’s three production zones has been by far the most influential in shaping Rioja’s new, terroir-focused incarnation, and its small producers are among Rioja’s best and most passionate exponents of wine as an expression of land and place rather than time and oak.
That it is also at the centre of an ongoing sub-plot with the potential to bring far more radical change to the region only adds to the sense that little Alavesa is the main character in Rioja’s 21st-century narrative.
Scroll down to see tasting notes and scores for 12 wines from six leading Rioja Alavesa estates
We should probably deal with that sub-plot first, since, somewhat ironically, it is how many wine-drinkers have come to understand that Rioja is not the culturally homogenous, single zone that they had always thought it was. It’s a story that cuts right to the heart of modern Spain’s neuroses about the relationship between its constituent regions (or, as some prefer, nations), drawing as it does on Alavesa’s Basque identity: the Rioja Alavesa zone (300km2) is part of the Basque autonomous region north of the Ebro river.