Today, Rioja is the most exciting of the traditional wine regions in the world. Why? A lot is going on. In the past, almost all wines were blended, but today, a number of single vineyard wines with a terroir focus have sprung up. Traditionally, wines were matured for long periods in oak, often more than five years. Strict regulations supported this approach. Oaky flavours were the hallmark of Rioja wines. Today, a number of wineries emphasize the Tempranillo fruit. The scene reminds me of Piedmont in the 1990s, with traditionalists and modernists fighting it out.
I visited Rioja a bit over a year ago and had planned to publish an article about it, but the wine magazine I used to write for had difficulties, and it never happened. I just came across my notes, and will now write this up here. The blog will have less wine specific tasting notes than normal, as the tastings took place more than 12 months ago, but there will be some.
The geography of Rioja is quite fascinating. On the one hand, warm winds are funneled up north from the Mediterranean, moving from Zaragoza into Rioja. On the other hand, cold winds from the Atlantic hit the Basque mountain range and descend into Rioja. Near Bilbao is a gap in the mountains which delivers wind and rain.