In the highlands of Alavesa and Rioja Alta the remnants of the westerly winds from the Atlantic cool the vineyards. The harsh winds from the north are filtered by the Pyrenees and by the Cantabrian mountains. The result is a cold winter, mild and sunny spring, hot summers, and mild autumns with cooling night-time breezes. Although the highlands have a typical continental type of climate, a more Mediterranean climate rules in Rioja Baja with hot, dry summers with many hours of sunshine.
The Spanish wines from Rioja are white, rose, and red. The Viura grape is mainly used for the white Spanish wine (known elsewhere as Macabeo or Macabeu), which imparts the wine with delicate acidity. This grape is supplemented with some Malvasía. This latter variety is responsible for the fresh bouquet and fine acidity. Finally, some Garnacha Blanca is also added to impart greater roundness to the wine and increase the level of alcohol. Rose Spanish wines are made with the Garnacha, with or without the addition of some Tempranillo and even the white Viura. Modern-style roses (Rosado) though are increasingly being made with Tempranillo grapes. Red Spanish wines are mainly produced with Tempranillo, often mixed with Garnacha, Mazuelo and/or Graciano. The once so popular Cabernet Sauvignon is not planted any more and is disappearing from present-day cuvees.
Rioja wines are distinguished by their vintage and the extent to which they have matured. This information is contained on the label, the label on the back of the bottle, or sometimes on the neck seal. Plain 'Rioja' indicates that the wine is bottled in its first year (vino joven) and must be drunk young. The indication 'Crianza' says that the wine has been aged in oak for at least one year (for red wines) and six months (for whites), in small barricas, and has then been bottled. This Spanish wine is not permitted to leave the bodega before its second year (for white and rose) and even the third year for red wine. The term 'Reserva' is used for red wine that has been aged for at least one year in oak barricas and then has spent at least a further year in the bottle. For white and rose wines this term means they must have been aged in oak for at least six months and may not leave the bodega before they are three years old. Gran Reserva wines are exceptional and are only made in the better years.
These Spanish wines must be aged in barricas for at least two years and then further aged in the bottle for at least three years. These Spanish wines (that are mainly reds) may not leave the bodega before they are six years old.
White Rioja (joven) is excellent, fresh, and fruity. Drinking temperature for this Spanish wine: 46.4- 50.0°F (8-10°C).
White Rioja Crianza/Reserva/Gran Reserva is often rounded, full-bodied, and juicy wine with extensive bouquet ranging from citrus fruit to white fruit, floral and wild herbal notes. Depending on the style of the maker, this Spanish wine can be very fresh or rather ponderous. Old-fashioned white Riojas are often dominated by oak, while the more modern wines have more of an impression of fruitiness, and in particular of the Viura grape. Drink for this Spanishwine at: 50-53.6°F (10-12°C). Rose that has not been aged in wooden casks is fresh and fruity. Drink this Spanish wine at 50-53.6°F (10-12°C).
Red Rioja that has not been cask-aged (joven) is mainly made with Tempranillo. It is best to drink this Spanish wine when young while still fresh and seductively fruity. Drinking temperature for Rioja Spanish wine: 53.6-57.2°F (12-14°C). The better Rioja Tinto Reserva or Gran Reserva are fullbodied, elegant, and refined with a clear suggestion of oak which is reminiscent of vanilla. Traditional Riojas often possess both the scent and taste of citrus fruit, together with fine acidity. Old-fashioned ponderous Rioja is still to be found for sale but fortunately these are less commonly made now. The best modern Riojas can readily compete with the best French and Italian wines, especially in terms of price. Drink this Spanish wine at: 60.8-64.4 °F (16-18°C) .