La Rioja is a region located in the northeast of Spain, on both sides of the river Ebro. It has an area of aproximatedly 5.000 Km2 and renowned local wine industry. Below the Cantabrian Mountains vineyards occupy most of the the Ebro valley. Local wineries range from small traditional cellars to major commercial producers. The region is relatively close from the french border (150 Km) and from the sea in the Bay of Biscay (100 Km).
The valley has a width of no more than 50 Km and is covered in vineyards to an altitude of about 700 meters above sea level. The valley is moderated by the Cantabrian Mountains, a small but jagged mountain range that stops clouds from coming in. The area also benefits from the confluence of two different climates, Atlantic and Mediterranean, which provide mild temperatures and an annual rainfall which is ideal for growing grapes.
The characteristic soils of La Rioja have a balanced structure. They are slightly alkaline and have a poor organic content and low water availability in the summer, therefore, they are most suitable for quality viticulture.
Concerning wine, the area is split into 3 different sections: Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Usually most people says that Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa wines are better than the ones produced in Rioja Baja, but that is not always the case. You can find great Rioja wines from all over, you just need to pay attention to producer and vintage.
From an administrative point of view, the Rioja vineyards are divided between three provinces: La Rioja, Alava and Navarra.
The Rioja wines are well known for its structure and tanins, which are similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, but they also have a fruity characteristic. They are perfect wines for drinkers who like Cabernet but are also looking for the cherry flavour that is often found in wines like Pinot Noir.
The Rioja wines are made from a blend of different grape varieties. The indigenous Tempranillo variety is clearly the dominant grape and Mazuelo, Graciano and Garnacha are also included to add different properties.
Rioja wine is as age worthy as Bordeaux and Burgundy can be, but it is economically speaking much more affordable compared to them. This means that a bottle of age-worthy Rioja wine can be bought for far less than an equally rated bottle of Bordeaux or Burgundy for example.
It is important to know that the Rioja wines are classified into four different levels depending basically on the amount of time that the wine spends in oak. The four different classifications are Rioja, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva and are clearly labelled in the back of each bottle.