Rioja is Spain’s most important wine producing region, and arguably it’s finest region for Tempranillo (although producers in Ribera del Duero may argue). The region is divided into three zones running along the Ebro river, “Rioja Baja” (more Garnacha/Grenache based wines), and the finest zones for Tempranillo-“Rioja Alta” and “Rioja Alavesa”. Rioja Alta/Alavesa are located in the Basque dominant North West of the country around the town winemaking town of Haro. The epicenter of the Rioja region is the city of Logroño, and winemaking has flourished in the area since the Christian conquest of the Moors in the 15th century. The best vineyards lie on the slopes abutting the Sierra de Cantabria (mountains) at altitudes ranging from 300-800m. Although 7 varieties of grapes are grown in Rioja, it is the black grape Tempranillo that has thrived on these clay and limestone soils. Although there has been renewed interest in the Graciano (endemic black grape), Viura (White-Macabeo) and Verdejo (White-Verdehlo) also grown here.
Scenically, Rioja is quite beautiful with the Sierra Cantabria Mountains dominating the northern landscapes. There are many castle-topped hillsides and much of the medieval architecture still remains. The roads are well made, with multiple freeway systems channeling their way through the countryside. Although Spanish (or Basque) language is a definite benefit, a smile, some pointing and descriptive body language will often get you by. I wouldn’t say wine tourism is highly developed here, but many wineries offer tasting rooms and are open to the public. On the whole I would recommend the area to the seasoned wine traveler.
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