Geographically the DOCa Rioja appellation of origin comprises La Rioja, southern Álava, and a part of Navarra. A little slice of heaven on earth, nourished by the Ebro River and seven of its tributaries, which cut across the region from west to east and have carved ideal winegrowing valleys into the land.
Originally a land of wild grapevines, it became heir to the viticultural legacy of the Romans and later adopted Bordeaux-imparted oenological nuances.
History of DOCa Rioja
The Romans who settled in the high Ebro valley introduced and encouraged the cultivation of vinifera varieties. Eager to define their expansion (in vineyards), they also sought to satisfy their own consumption needs. So the Roman legions taught the locals their vinification techniques.
In the Middle Ages, written documents such as the cartularies of several monasteries, like San Millán de la Cogolla and Valvanera, provide evidence of winegrowing in Rioja. By then production was flourishing, and the by-laws of the municipality of Logroño regulated vinification and ensured a proper level of quality control. A precursor, so to speak, of what would eventually become known as an appellation of origin. La Rioja obtained DO status (official recognition as an appellation of origin) in 1925 and was elevated to DO Calificada in 1991.
When phylloxera first broke out in France in 1867, Rioja exported wine to its neighbour. As a result, Rioja wine began to gain in value, in addition to developing the characteristics it is known for today. The influence of the Bordeaux style could also be seen in the new kinds of grape varieties (Cabernet and Merlot) and the new oak barrels introduced by several marquisates in the region. At the same time, winegrowers were acquiring the necessary knowledge to give indigenous grapes like Tempranillo ever greater prominence.
Geographical areas of DOCa Rioja
In geographical terms, DOCa Rioja is divided into three zones, shaped and differentiated by the flow of the Ebro. Upriver we find the northern climate and fertile winegrowing land of Rioja Alta. The most interesting region, geographically speaking, might be Rioja Alavesa. It lies along a higher and steeper stretch of land between the river and the Sierra de Cantabria, a mountain range that runs parallel to the Ebro River and protects the area from cold northerly winds, resulting in milder temperatures. Finally, Rioja Baja is the most open region, dry and well suited to Mediterranean tree crops. (The Winkler line, which divides the valley's northern and Mediterranean climate conditions, runs through Haro.)
Landscape of Rioja Alavesa offering a glimpse of the La Carbonera vineyards (a Familia Torres property)
The varieties of DOCa Rioja
Tempranillo is unquestionably the flagship grape of the region. The variety dominates the blended wines of Rioja, accompanied by varieties that are ideally suited to ageing and cellaring: Mazuelo (Cariñena) and Graciano. Garnacha is also widely cultivated, especially in Rioja Baja where the variety produces excellent reds.
Tempranillo cluster at La Carbonera, a Familia Torres property
As far as white wines go, the Rioja style prizes freshness and aroma over long ageing. Viura (Macabeu) and Malvasía Roja usually result in very successful blends.
The wines of DOCa Rioja
Rioja reds are fine, elegant, velvety wines with clean aromas that are easily aerated in a decanter. The reason for their particular profile can be found in the local edaphic (refers to soil science, the study of the nature and conditions of soils in relation to plants) and climatic conditions that are mild and temperate, lacking the extremes found in other regions.
The wines are characterized by delicate tannins and hues ranging from the vermilion of young Riojas to ruby-coloured Crianzas and brick red Gran Reservas.
The classification of DOCa Rioja wines
Four kinds of wines make up the classifications of DOCa Rioja wines:
- Crianza: the wines are aged a minimum of 24 months, of which at least 6 are spent in oak barrels with a maximum capacity of 330 litres.
- Reserva: these wines are aged a minimum of 36 months, of which at least 12 are spent in oak barrels with a maximum capacity of 330 litres. During the remaining months, the wine ages in the bottle.
- Gran Reserva: these wines age a minimum of 60 months, spending 18 months in oak barrels – again with a maximum capacity of 330 litres – and the remaining months in the bottle.
- Vino de Municipio: it refers to those who are made in the municipality itself and who come from vineyards very close to its location, so that they express the distinct personality and taste of a particular village. These wines will carry the VM letters in the Precincts of the Governing Council, which, as in the previous case, proves their traceability.
Las Pisadas by Familia Torres
With La Carbonera, Familia Torres has embarked on a winemaking project that consolidates its commitment to Rioja Alavesa, specifically Labastida. By focusing on provenance and typicity, the winery produces a unique wine that interprets the landscape of this historic region.
Las Pisadas, the wine, displays deep fruit concentration; it is clean, balanced, nicely concentrated, with elegant tannins and excellent ageing potential.
Las Pisadas, a red wine made from Tempranillo
Las Pisadas is the first wine from La Carbonera, a winery with twenty hectares under vine, which display a distinctive identity and are classified as a Viñedo Singular, Rioja's highest single vineyard designation.
Under the direction of winemaker Julio Carreter, the project opens a new chapter for the wines that Familia Torres has produced in Rioja since 2006. It is the culmination of the knowledge acquired over the years, identifying different terroirs and the finest parcels to produce our wines, worthy of carrying the region's good name into the future.
The red wine Las Pisadas paired with the culinary creations of El Celleret Garden Restaurant, a Familia Torres property