Rioja at the crossroads
RIOJA AT THE CROSSROADS
With 63,593 hectares of vineyards and more than 800 wineries belonging to it, the region of Rioja is, no question about it, the most important and prestigious wine region in the whole of Spain.
Rioja has a winemaking tradition that harks back more than 2,000 years ago. It was the first wine region in Spain to be recognized as a Designation of Origin, in June 6th 1925.
Moreover, in 1991 it also was the first territory in Spain to be classified as Qualified Designation of Origin, which grants the highest level of legal protection and prestige according to the Spanish law.
Currently, only La Rioja and Priorat enjoy this recognition in Spain.
So far, the history of Rioja has been, generally speaking, a success story. And yet, nowadays the region is at a crossroads.
One of the peculiar things about the wines from Rioja is their classification system. The quality of any given wine is not determined by its place of origin, but for the time it spends ageing in barrels. Thus, the Regulatory Board defines four types of wines: Garantía de Origen, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.
This system differs greatly from the criteria used in France, undoubtedly the most influential country in the world as far as quality wine is concerned. As it is well known, the French determine the quality of their wines mainly by paying attention to the terroir, a complex combination of features that includes soil, climate, history and winemaking traditions.
In recent times, some prominent Rioja producers have shown their disconformity with the traditional system of classification of their region. From their point of view, the system ignores the diversity and richness of terroirs existent in Rioja and puts everything-the good, the sublime and the mediocre-under the same generic label, thus devaluating the uniqueness of the world-class wines produced in the region.
One of the most outspoken critics of the traditional system is Juan Carlos López de Lacalle. The owner of Bodegas Artadi, which is considered by many the best winery of the new Rioja, Mr. López de Lacalle recently decided to quit the Designation of Origin altogether in protest against what he considers a mistaken policy from the part of the Rioja Regulatory Board.
Meanwhile, some influential wine critics have given their take about the subject. In some cases, they have suggested new systems of classification to replace the old one.
An interesting proposal was recently published by the British MW Tim Atkin in his own website.
Mr. Atkin's proposal is based on the system of classification used in the French region of Bordeaux.
That system, as it is well known, classifies the wines in five categories (Crus) according to the reputation of the winery and the price of the wines.
Below, we propose you a series of six wines produced by some of the highest ranked wineries in Mr. Atkin's scale.
We conclude with a white wine from López de Heredia-Viña Tondonia, one of the oldest wineries of the region. A single varietal Viura, Viña Gravonia Crianza Blanco 2006 is the proof that Rioja is also home to some of Spain's best white wines.
Until the next post,
Just enjoy wine