Rioja DOCa is the leading wine region of Spain, and considered one of the five best-known and most prestigious wine-producing regions of the world. The region can be further divided into three subregions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja.
The iron-rich soils in Rioja Alta are the best to produce white wines from Viura (or Macabeo in France) and reds from Tempranillo. Rioja Alavesa produces the lightest wines in Rioja, but with the most finesse. Again Tempranillo is the major variety. In the more continental Rioja Baja, however, Garnacha (or Grenache) is the dominant grape variety.
Rioja is best known for its blended red wines. Among the various styles of Rioja reds, the top wines have gone through very long periods of oak-aging. Wines that are aged for at least 2 years with 6 months oak aging are called Crianzas; those have been aged for at least 3 years with 1-year oak aging are called Reservas, and only wines aged for at least 5 years with 2 years in oak are branded Gran Reservas. Those young and fruity Rioja wines that have never spent any time in oak are called Jovens.
New American oak barrels give Rioja reds a typical soft vanilla, coconut and toast flavour, while modern winemaking puts more emphasis on preserving the strawberry and plum fruit flavour of Tempranillo.
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