From West to East, Rioja is just 100km and at its widest point 40km, tucked in between mountain ranges and cut through by the river Ebro. As a wine region it is compact, yet it is all about diversity. Politically it is divided, administered by three autonomous governments.
Climatically there are differences: Rioja Alavesa to the north has strong Atlantic influences; Rioja Alta to the west also has a mainly Atlantic climate; Rioja Baja to the east is drier and warmer with Mediterranean influences.
Being Rioja, if it’s on the shelf, it’s ready to drink, though the best will cellar well for 10 years. At the £8-£25 level, the pleasure is surely in drinking them now or soon. The wines have generous fruit, the best with the essence of biting into a fleshy cherry or plum. Alcohols are creeping up to 14.5% in many cases – though most wines are well-balanced.
Nothing is straightforward about the soils in Rioja; a complex blend of chalky clay, ferrous clay and alluvial types. Add into this the differing aspects and elevations – up to 700m, and in a few cases up to 900m. Blend in the grape varieties. To finish, there are the decisions of the producers, each serving diverse customer tastes.
Rioja offers history, tradition and classical wines. Its winemaking history goes back more than 1,000 years; the difficulty is that its image has not moved as far as its wine styles. Yet the region’s producers are not standing still. They have listened to their consumers, and red Rioja priced between £8 and £25 is better value than ever before. See our judges’ outstanding and highly recommended wines here.