Kravitz still has a knack for finding good wines at great prices – Robert Parker, Parker on Wine, BusinessWeek, 8/20 & 27, 2007

Hand Picked Selections in La Rioja

This is the smallest geographic region of Spain and the only one that is primarily defined by its wines. The small size does not make for simplicity. The Rioja Appellation is divided into three parts - Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Rioja Alta has the highest reputation, Rioja Baja the lowest, although the realties in the glass are far from that clearcut. Rioja Alavesa (between Alta and Baja both geographically and by reputation, but in the northern half of the Denominacion) actually has terroir very similar to Rioja Alta. The division is political and cultural more than geographic. Rioja Alavesa is part of the Basque country with its own language and culture. Both Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja are both Spanish, Rioja Alta adjoining Castilia y Leon and Rioja Baja next to Navarra.

This has always been a fine but difficult wine region. Vineyards are 1000 - 2000 feet above sea level, backed on the north by the Sierra Cantabria, a massive chain of mountains that form a westerly extension of the Pyrenees, topping out at about 7000 feet. Without this protection from the cold, rainy Atlantic, La Rioja could not support vines and a major wine industry. Soils vary widely between and within the three districts, but there is a lot of both red clay and limestone, universally acknowledged to be propitious for fine wine.

La Rioja is a small region, but a huge percentage of its land area is devoted to vineyards - over 150,000 acres produce 30 million cases. That is barely 3 tons per acre. Low yields are an important part of the reason that Spain in general and Rioja in particular have growing reputations for good, fine and great wines. The Denominacion applies to red, rose and white wines. In the past, long-aged rich Rioja whites were prized, but the winds of fashion have changed and most of today's white Riojas are fresher - and have less character. Whites and roses combined account for about 10% of production and simply don't matter much.

Today Rioja makes red wines in a wide variety of styles. There are still a few Bodegas that stick to the traditional pale, long-aged style. A much larger number of Bodegas, many new, make more modern styled wines darker in color, fresher in fruit and with greater degrees of tannin and vigor. These can range from light to medium in body and modest in price to massive powerhouses at much higher prices (although there are fewer 3 digit bottlings than in either Ribera del Duero or Priorat, Denominaciones with much smaller total production). 


La Rioja