Wine regions across the world are divided into two groups, Old World and New World. Old World wine regions are those where wine originated. The group includes France, Italy and Spain among others. New World wine regions are mostly former colonies or where vineyards were introduced and did not originally exist. New World includes the United States, Australia and Chile among others. While France is probably the undisputed leader in the world, one cannot dismiss the significance of Spain or Italy. Spain produces around and at times more than four billion liters of wine in a year. History has it that France, Spain and Italy have always fought for supremacy as the leader in winemaking but the truth is all three have their strengths and weaknesses. All three have millions of fans, if not billions, and they have their fair share of critiques as well.
If one had to pick the best vineyards in Spain, then the list would definitely include Bodegas Torres at Vilafranca del Penedès in Catalunya, Marqués de Riscal at El Ciego in Rioja Alavesa, Dinastia Vivanco at Briones in La Rioja, Bodegas Protos at Peñafiel in Castilla y León, Marqués de Murrieta at Logroño in La Rioja, Bodegas López de Heredia ‘Viña Tondonia’ at Haro in La Rioja, Bodegas Freixenet at Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in Catalunya, Bodegas Codorniu at Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in Catalunya, Ramón Bilbao at Haro in La Rioja and Campo Viejo at Logroño in La Rioja.
La Rioja Wine Region in Spain
The list contains as many as six vineyards in Rioja and it is indeed the most famous wine region in Spain. Rioja wine region is in La Rioja, an autonomous northern province in Spain. The wine region comprises of the communities of La Rioja, Navarre and Basque. The latter is a province in Álava. Rioja wine region has three zones, namely Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. La Rioja is a little more than three hundred kilometers north of Madrid and around five hundred kilometers west of Barcelona.
The wines produced in Rioja have a distinct range of flavors, from fruity to earthy, but they are almost always smooth. There is a wine law in Rioja that mandates blending of tempranillo grapes with garnacha, maturana tinta, graciano or mazuelo. This has been the longstanding tradition, although unconventional varieties such as the cabernet sauvignon are also blended nowadays. The blending produces a sweet flavor that is rich and sour, hence imparting the uniqueness of the wines of the region.
Rioja wines are well aged. The younger wines, which are referred to as joven wines, have a purer fruity flavor and they are not aged in oak barrels. Wines branded as crianzas are aged for a year in barrels and another year in bottles. Those branded as reservas are aged for a year in barrels and another two years in bottles. Gran reservas are aged for two years or longer in barrels and then another three years in bottles.
Rioja is recognized as Denominación de Origen Calificada, which literally means Qualified Designation of Origin. Hence, all Rioja wines must bear the quality that is associated with the region. Some of the most popular Rioja wines are Viña Ijalba Graciano and Rioja Graciano. Just as France is protective of its Champagne and Bordeaux, Italy has its stringent policies as to which wine can be labeled as what and Spain has its standards for wines to be labeled and marketed as Rioja wines. Other popular wine growing regions in Spain are Penedès, Priorat, Ribera del Duero, Valencia, Navarra, La Mancha, Rueda, Jumilla and Jerez or Sherry.