Rioja wines

Rioja wines

View of Elciego from Marquez de Riscal

Wine of high quality has been produced in Rioja since the 18th century when Rioja was framed from the Phylloxera in contrast to the rest of Europe.The wine region of Rioja is divided in three regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja.


Rioja Alavesa is by many regarded as the highest quality on average. Rioja Alta produces a little more heavy wines. Rioja Baja is considered producing wine of a little lower quality but higher alchol density. The Tempranillo grape is dominating. Almost 90 per cent of the wines produced in this region is Tempranillo.

Rioja Alavesa

The main capital of Rioja Alavesa is Laguardia. It is the smallest and most northern of the wine regions of Rioja. Also the wineyards tend to be small and situated at 400-1,400 metres height. T

The climate in this part of Rioja is more chilly and humid compared to the other regions. The mountain range Sierra Cantabria protects the area from the northern winds of the Atlantic ocean. Many of the modern wines are made from the Tempranillo grape only.

Rioja Alta

The main capital of Rioja Alta is Haro. This is also the place for a wine festival in June "La Batalla del Vino". Another larger city in this region is Logrono.

This area was for long considered to be the best area in Rioja characterized by brown-red grounds, perfect for cultivating the grape Tempranillo.

Rioja Baja

Rioja Baja is southeast of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa and has a larger influence from the Mediterranean. It is the warmest and most dry region of Rioja. The main wine capital of Rioja Baja is Alfaro.

Almost half of the wine produced in Rioja is produced in this region south of river Ebro. The Tempranillo grape is dominating in this region as well.

View of Elciego and

Marquez de Riscal in Rioja Alavesa

Classification of wines in Rioja

There are four different classifications of wines in Rioja. Some say that, rather than classifications the four classes are definitions of styles of wine.

Vino jóven is a young red wine usually not stored on oak barrels at all, only in bottles. This wine shall not be stored in bottles for more than a couple of years. It is a very fruity wine.

Crianza must be stored on barrels for at least 12 months. It is also a very fruity wine. It is not allowed to be sold until three years after the harvest.

Reserva must, like the Crianza, be stored on barrels for at least 12 months. It is not allowed to be sold until four years after the harvest. 

Gran Reserva must be stored on barrels for 24 months and three years on bottle. It is not allowed to be sold until six years after the harvest. It is less fruity than the other wines and often have more depths.

        Visit a few wineyards and wine tastings. We visited Vivanco and Marquez de Riscal. They are in Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa respectively. The setting and wines of these two are very different from each other.

        Vivanco is a modern wine yard and seemed super efficient. We liked their wine a lot and have ordered a box of wine a couple of times after arriving back home. Marquez de Riscal is probaby more famous and just as efficient and great but everyone´s taste differs.

        Wine tasting included in the guided tour

        At Vivanco you also find a truly impressive Wine museum. 4,000 square metres devoted to the making of wine, history of wine and art connected to wine including some paintings by Picasso.

        You can walk around here for hours learning about grapes and terroir. You also learn about the construction of wine barrels, bottles and corks and about sensing the character, colour and aroma of wine.

        In Laguardia there are several small bodegas for wine tasting so you can probably find some hidden gems here.

        If you are into biking you can bike along the river Ebro and from for example Elciego to Laguardia. We borrowed bikes for free at the hotel in Elciego and biked the 5 kilometres to Laguardia passing by wineyards on the way. There was not much traffic along the road so it felt safe.

        Biking to Laguardia

        Where to stay in Rioja? 

        We checked a lot of different places to stay in the region but finally ended up choosing the Marquez de Riscal in Elciego. One reason was that it has a perfect location close to Laguardia. Another one is that is designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. We are totally into great design. 

        Marques de Riscal is a really nice place to stay. Besides being a hotel Marquez de Riscal is also a wineyard. The mix between the old traditional buildings and the super modern hotel is perfect! And we just loved the a la carte breakfast including ham, cheeses, croissants, eggs Benedict,...

        You can read more about this hotel at favourite boutique hotels.

        If you are into it you can very well bike along the River Ebro. We borrowed bikes at the hotel and biked to nearby Laguardia.

        Á la carte breakfast menu

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