Posts Tagged ‘Rioja’
Laguardia, Spain (dpa) – The Rioja Alavesa in the Basque region of northern Spain is an area of stunning natural beauty, where the local business is vineyards and bodegas (wineries) that range from small family businesses to spectacular buildings designed by the world’s best architects. Celebrated American architect Frank Gehry, creator of the Guggenheim Museum in… read more
One thing that’s obvious in La Rioja is that the region’s winemakers are as knowledgeable about wine as they are passionate about producing it.
Perhaps nobody better exemplifies that combination of knowledge and passion than Victor F. Pascual Artacho – master winemaker for Campo Viejo and President of the Denominación de Origen for the region.
Victor was gracious enough to welcome us to his winery and tell us what he feels Denominación de Origen Rioja really means:
“The Denominación Rioja was created in 1926,” he explains, “with the fundamental objective of ensuring the quality of wine that’s sold under the name ‘Rioja.”
“Today, the D.O.C. also controls the promotion of Rioja as a brand; working with regional winemakers to make sure we all share the same vision of what the name Rioja should mean to consumers.”
“The message we want to give is that La Rioja is a winemaking region that’s established, but dynamic – producing wines that are both modern and traditional.”
“Part of Rioja’s appeal is how our wine has grown from the culture and history of the region, and comes with a guarantee of tradition and quality – but we also want people to discover the grand diversity of wine offered by the bodegas of Rioja, and the different personalities of our many grape varietals.”
Marketing Rioja as a name and a winemaking region is a responsibility Victor takes very seriously.
“We’ve invested in considerable promotion for D.O.C. Rioja, with the strategy of encouraging sales around the world. In the United States alone, for example, we have a staff of 20 dedicated purely to the promotion of Rioja.”
Through that promotion, Victor is keen to communicate the commitment local winemakers have to blending the traditional with the modern; a strategy mirrored by the methods he uses to market Rioja to new consumers – methods that span both traditional media and emerging technologies.
“We’re always marketing ourselves with new methods; most recently with social media – Facebook and Twitter – and other modern forms of digital publicity. In the United States, for example, we now have an Internet community called“Friends of Rioja” which includes over 90,000 members.”
In many ways, Victor feels that the way D.O.C. Rioja is evolving its marketing techniques is indicative of the Rioja winemaking tradition itself:
“We have made wine in La Rioja for thousands of years,” he explains, “and throughout that time, we’ve always been evolving and improving our methods to make a better product.” Their marketing follows that same model.
It’s fascinating to see how passionate Victor is – not just about making wine in La Rioja, but also communicating to people how this venerable winemaking region still retains a commitment to innovation – one people forget has existed thousands of years.
If there’s anything we’ve learned coming to La Rioja and speaking to Victor, it’s how this region tries to embrace a ‘new world’ attitude despite being a very recognizable part of the traditional ‘old world’.
It’s a concept that’s challenged our preconceptions about Rioja wine; as have many of the exciting new wines we’ve discovered while we’ve been here.
One of my favorite wines of the world is traditional “old school” Rioja. Coming from a region in North Spain named “La Rioja” just south of the Basque province and east of Navarra, this region with a long tradition in wine making is ideal for Tempranillo grapes. Sometimes La Rioja wines are also blended with Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo grapes. The region Splits in to the areas: La Rioja Alta, La Rioja Alavesa and La Rioja Baja.
Alta and Alavesa are slightly more elevated areas, producing a lighter style of wine with higher acidity levels. Baja is a dry and hot area, producing big and juicy wines with a higher level of alcohol. These wines are used to blend with grapes from other regions.
In the 1990 Rioja DOC was granted a permission to irrigate and this marked a turning point in the wine making styles of Rioja. Traditional Rioja comes in 4 different styles: Rioja (a.k.a. Joven) is the youngest, it is made either un-oaked or it spends less than 1 year in an oak barrel. Rioja Crianza is more complex, minimum aging is 2 years, with a one year minimum in a barrel. Rioja Riserva is wine with amazing complexity and pronounced oak characteristics from a minimum 3 years aging, with at least 1 year in an oak barrel. And finally, Rioja Grand Riserva which is only made in the best years, offers a wine with amazing age-ability and the most complex flavors. It is aged for a minimum of 5 years, with a minimum 2 years in an oak barrel. Traditionally Riojas spend more than their minimum time in oak and in the bottles before they get released to the market.
Some of the last vestiges of this style of wine are Bodega Lopez de Heredia and Bodegas Muga. These are wines with extreme depth of flavor thanks to their long aging practices. In some cases, the Grand Riservas are aged up to 9 years in oak barrels and 9 years in the bottle before the wine actually leaves the winery. Sadly enough, these styles of wine are long forgotten and have been replaced by new, fruit forward wines that cater to a wider consumer population.
Today, ambitious guys like Telmo Rodriguez are taking up the challenge to compete with the new world wine regions and capture the attention of young wine drinkers with low priced, value wines that exhibit a “New world like” fruit forward characteristic. Many bodegas have adapted to this trend and have begun to use some not so traditional techniques to produce their wines. For Example, some wine makers now use micro-oxygenation (pumping minuscule air bubbles into the wine tanks) which softens the wines and enhances its’ full fruit characteristics. Some also employ Carbonic Maceration (in which whole clusters are placed in large open vats and allowed to ferment inside the individual grape berries without the addition of yeasts) to help create wine with more vibrant fruit flavors.
So for all of you who prefer your wine to smell like burned leather, animal fur, dusty road and dry aged meat, you will have to focus your attention on private sales, winery private orders and auctions. But for all the rest of you who prefer wine to be juicy, big, rich and vibrant there is a whole new world of wine coming from Spain. Today this also includes the new Rioja wines. I like them but I do miss the “old school” Riojas.