Rioja was always known for dusty, old reds, long-aged in seasoned American oak barriques, and overtly vanillin, coconut, dill flavoured American oak aged non-aromatic whites. Both styles can be really compelling and delicious done well, and horrific done poorly.
The origins of this style emerged when phylloxera hit Bordeaux at the beginning of the 19th century, the Bordelais came over the Sierra Cantabria Mountains to Rioja 200 miles south, bringing their winemaking techniques including the barrique bordelaise. The country that funded Columbus’ travels opted for American sourced oak. From here, the region developed a classification system based on length of time in barrel and bottle, from Joven (young), through Crianza, Reserva to Gran Reserva which receives minimum 2 years in barrel, 2 years in bottle.
However, Rioja today has gone through a metamorphosis. While some producers, such as Lopez de Heredia, still produce ultra-traditional styles, others such as Contino, Muga and Marques de Murrieta, are producing cleaner, more expressive versions of the classic style. Others like the Eugurens, Benjamin Romeo and Telmo Rodriguez are crafting very modern, dark fruited, French oak spiced reds. Since Contino over 40 years ago, single-vineyard expressions are becoming more prevalent.
Rioja is also known for some of the world’s most beautiful winery architecture by geniuses such as Frank Gehry and Santiago Calatrava. Not particularly known for its restaurants, but they are getting much better. Rioja will also be known for being the home of the 2018 Master of Wine Symposium in Logrono!