This Spanish wine has been produced in La Rioja for more than two thousand years, but the breakthrough for present Rioja wines occurred in the late nineteenth century. Considerable numbers of vines of the Tempranillo variety were grown in the area. Some of the wellheeled nobility though grew Cabernet and Merlot because of the fashion of the day to plant French varieties. When the French vineyards were destroyed by the combination of first fungal disease and then Phylloxera, French wine-makers were forced to travel to Spain to buy young Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines. They discovered the charm of the Tempranillo and helped the Spanish to improve their method of vinification. This did not go smoothly at first because the local Spanish wine-growers did not at first appreciate the superior know-all manner of their northern neighbours. Furthermore most of the Spanish could see no point in the expensive equipment or of hygiene. Fortunately there were some with foresight for the future, such as the famous Marques de Riscal. Thanks to these people the area of La Rioja developed into one of the most famous wine-growing areas in the world. The first Rioja wine that became known was made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Although Rioja was granted its first DO in 1926, it was a long time before it appeared under its own name in the European market. The British continued to call Rioja 'Spanish claret' or 'Spanish Burgundy', while the French shipped immense volumes of Rioja to France to support the ailing Bordeaux. The good name of Bordeaux therefore owes a great deal to Spain, although the wine experts of the French capital city of wine prefer not to be reminded of this. Today the name of Rioja is associated throughout the world with quality in the same breath as Bordeaux and Burgundy.
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