Rioja wines are usually a blend of various grape varieties and can be either red (tinto), white (blanco) or rosé (rosado). Aproximatedly 90% of the total production is red wine and the most widely grape variety used by far is the indigenous Tempranillo. The different spanish wine grape varieties that are currently approved to produce wine by the D. O. C. (Denominación de Origen Calificada) Rioja are:
Red: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana Tinta.
White: Viura, Malvasía, Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Maturana Blanca, Turruntés, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo.
We will now provide a brief description of the characteristics and properties of the main grape varieties grown in the Rioja.
It is the main grape variety and occupies around 75% of the total cultivated land of the Rioja Appellation Region. It is considered to be indigenous to the Rioja region and its Spanish origin is internationally recognised. It is sure in fruit set, sensitive to pests and disease and not very resistant to drought or hot temperatures, As its name suggests, it is an early grape with a short ripening cycle.
Tempranillo produces a must which is balanced in sugar, colour and acidity. It has an honest taste on the palate, interesting in the young wine and velvety when aged. It is regarded as the most favoured grape variety.
There are several grape varities in other spanish wine regions that are practically identical to Tempranillo. Tempranillo is currently widespread in Spain due to its recognised quality, and is authorised in 28 apellation regions, of which it is the principal varietal in 12.
This grape variety native to Spain is one of the most extensively grown varieties in the whole world. In Rioja, it is frequently used to complement the Tempranillo with its aromas and body.
Garnacha is a hardy plant, able to withstand periods of drought and also fairly resistant to pests and major vine diseases like rust mites and powdery mildew. The resulting wine it produces depends a lot on environmental conditions (heat summation) and the way it is cultivated. In warm areas it produces the kind of wine for which it is best known (high alcohol level, low acidity and full-bodied), but in cool areas it produces a very interesting, balanced wine.
As a consequence of the above detailed characteristics, one cannot talk about Garnacha wine independently of the area in which it is grown, as the resulting wines are very varied. It is often unfairly criticised for its lack of quality by people who do not have sufficient knowledge or experience of its potential.
Mazuelo has been grown in Rioja for several centuries, but today it barely covers 3% of the region´s vineyards. It is more productive than other red varieties, but particularly sensitive to powdery mildew and needs more heat summation to mature. It gives musts with a lot of colour and acidity, harsh and lacking ir aroma, and develops into wines rich in tannings and rough on the palate.
Mazuelo´s most commonly accepted name is Carignan Noir, although many different synonyms have been recorded (Babonenc, Bois Dur, Cagnolaro Tinto, Carignan Mouillan, Cariñena, Cencibel, Girarde, Legno Duro, Mollard, Uva di Spagna … ).
Barely 200 hectares of this variety are grown in Rioja, representing only 0.5% of the Denomination. Graciano is regarded as an indigenous grape variety and it cultivation is very limited in other areas. It is an excellent complement to Tempranillo in the ageing process and it has a promising future in Rioja, where its planted surface area has increased significantly in the last few years.
It has greater resistance to pests and diseases than Tempranillo, and produces a bright red coloured must, with considerable acidity and pleasant and characteristic bouquet; it is the most aromatic of all our varieties. In view of the likely increase in its cultivation in the coming years, we should gain a better understanding of this variety in the near future.
Synonyms for Graciano around the world include Bastardo Nero, Bordelais, Cagnolale, Cagnovali Negro, Couthurier, Gros negrette, Minustello, Morrastel, Tinta Miuda, Xerz …
This variety has small and compact clusters and small berries. It is very sensitive to botrytis, with late budburst but early ripening. It has high colour intensity and anthocyanin content, high acidity and medium alcohol content. Sensorially it stands out for its purple colour, typical varietal aromas of green peppers with balsamic and spicy notes, a well-structured mouth with notable acidity and tartness and medium persistence. It is not grown anywhere else in the world, so it is a very interesting grape to support the uniqueness and diversity of Rioja wines.
Viura is the main white grape variety frown in Rioja and it occupies around 15% of the total surface area. Its spanish origin is recognized. Viura vines produce fewer bunches, but they are generally bigger, and are more productive than the red varietals though their fruit rots easily.
In cool areas Viura produces a pleasant. acidic must, with a characteristic flavour. Its wine is considered to be well-suited for ageing in wood, something of a traditional Riojan white winemaking technique. Other names for Viura include Alcañon, Forcalla, gredelin, Lardot, Macabeo, Queue de Renarad …
Malvasia originated in Asia Minor but was introduced into Europe early on. There are many Malvasias in the world, but these are not regarded as synonymous with the Malvasia de Rioja.
Its grapes are reddish yellow when ripe, and give an interesting must, with a certain viscosity and a special bouquet. The fruit is prone to rotting. Only a small area is cultivated in Rioja and therefore its possibilities are not very well known yet.
It is the variety that occupies the least surface area among authorised Rioja grapes. It may come from a mutation of red Garnacha. It has very similar characteristics to the red Garnacha (alcoholic wines with significant extract but little aroma and acidity). Grown in cool areas it produces pleasant wines with good acidity.
This grape comes from a natural genetic mutation from a single cane of a red Tempranillo vine, located in 1988 in an old vineyard. The clusters are loose and medium-sized and the berries are also medium-sized and slightly flattened. The total acidity remains high, with marked malic acid content. Its wines have a high concentration of volatile compounds with fruity aromas . This wines offer excellent sensorial characteristics, just like the red Tempranillo. They are yellow-green with characteristic intese aromas of bananas an citrus and tropical fruit, underscored by floral and terpene notes. Well-balanced mouthfeel with structure and medium-long persistence. It is not found anywhere else in the world.
It is the oldest grape variety known in Rioja, mentioned already in 1632. It is quite a fertile variety with small clusters and small, eliptical berries. It has the disadvantage of being particularly sensitive to botrytis. The most notable characteristic of Maturana Blanca are its low pH and high acidity, with significant tartaric acid content and low potasium content. These aspects compensate for the high alcohol content tan can be reached with this variety. Maturana Blanca wines have been described as greenish-yellow, with fruity aromas of apples, bananas and citrus fruits, and herbal notes. Light yet balanced on the palate, with tangy sensations and a slightly bitter finish of medium persistence.
TURRUNTES DE RIOJA
The name Turruntés often leads to confusión with the Galician variety Torrontés and it has nothing to do with the grape variety grown in Argentina. The cluster is medium-sized and compact, with medium-sized, spherical berries. Those with greater sun exposure may acquire a golden colour with dark spots. Its wines have a low alcohol content and high acidity, with a low pH and significant concentration of tartaric acid with low potassium content. The wine is described as pale yellow with greenish hues, having fruity aromas with dominating notes of apples, with a vegetal, grassy nature. Light on the palate, acidy and slightly bitter, with medium-short persistence.
It´s the worlds most popular variety, equivalent to Cabernet for red wines, the most widely-grown grape for quality white wines across the world.
It is part of the international cast of quality white wine grapes, considered the finest variety among French white grapes after Chadonnay.
A grape native to the D. O. Rueda, it is the Spanish white variety that has undergone the greatest development.
I believe that you will now have a better idea of which are the main spanish wine grape wine varieties that are used in the Rioja región for wine making.