Rioja - A guide to Spain's most famous wine region

Rioja, the largest and most famous wine region in Spain is located in North Central Spain. Spanning an area of over 63,000 ha, the region has a long history of winemaking and is home to many of Spain’s most famous and age-worthy wines.

Alongside well established bodegas producing quality styles traditionally matured in American oak, there is a wave of avant-garde winemakers crafting stylish modern wines, some of whom are moving towards French or Hungarian oak for maturation.

Sheltered by three mountain ranges, Rioja is fairly dry with an average annual rainfall of just 530 mm. The region’s climate varies from the cooler wetter, elevated areas of the northern Rioja Alavesa and the warm and dry areas of the Rioja Alta to the hot continental Rioja Baja on its south-eastern side.

Rioja is renowned for its red wines which are usually Tempranillo dominant blends with minor components of Garnacha (Grenache) Cariñena (Carignan) and occasionally Graciano. The finest Tempranillo grapes are grown on the chalky soils of the Rioja Alavesa sub-region offering elegance, perfume and acidity, while the Rioja Alta and Baja produce the majority of fruit that provide body and spicy ripe fruit characters.

Rioja also produces white wines made from Viura, Garnacha Blanca and Chardonnay. Two different styles exist; modern fresh, crisp unoaked styles and more traditional savoury oaked styles.

The quality of Rioja wine is overseen by the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja, a regulatory authority who inspects the quality of producers to ensure consistency. The Consejo Regulador sets out a hierarchy of quality for wines produced in Rioja, based on the maturation and ageing of its wines.

To better understand the quality and style of each designation, below is a simple guide to the quality hierarchy of red Rioja wines.

Rioja (previously known as Joven)1 to 2 years of age, low or no oak influence

These are young wines, generally fruit-forward and predominantly unoaked, made to drink young.

Crianza – Minimum 1 year maturation in oak casks & a few months in bottle.

The wines must be in their 3rd year. Crianza wines are matured predominantly in older oak, lending additional structure to the wine without generally overt new oak influence. Often medium-bodied in style, they typically show upfront primary fruit and some subtle savoury notes from maturation.

Reserva - Minimum 1 year maturation in oak casks and 2 years in bottle.

Reserva wines are made in select vintages, from high quality grapes and are often matured for far longer than the minimum requirement. Released after a minimum of three years of maturation, Reserva wines are typically more complex, age-worthy styles.

Gran Reserva – Minimum of 2 years in oak casks and 3 years in bottle

Gran Reserva wines are made in only the finest years. Often aged for longer than the 5 year minimum, they are typically highly complex and savoury, possessing the potential to age for 10 to 20 years.

Want to explore more?

Discover Langton’s full range of Rioja wines.


Andrea Pritzker, Langton's

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