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For the discussion of Rioja

Over on the new members thread the discussion drifted onto Rioja.
A separate thread seems a better idea.
I’m really no expert on this region but did visit in 2018, which gave an insight.
Obviously much discussion has been about the modern v traditional approach of various producers.
So how do we define this and which do you like?


It’s certainly a very beautiful rugged region.

I’ve always liked Rioja, long before we knew about the grapes involved, but I don’t buy a lot of it* - except in pubs and chain restaurants (remember them?) with poor wine lists. Rioja is the only wine likely to be bottled by the winery, all the rest for all their fancy invented names are bulk shipped - and I try to avoid those.

I have touted Tempranillo (the main red grape of Rioja)as the next fashionable red wine, and have noted increasing plantings in and very enjoyable wines from the new world.

*mainly because give preference to others.


I am waiting with baited breath for the wise to chip in. I have no Rioja in my stash and should correct this.

I adored the Tondonia I have tried but often find some of the modern iterations too sweet and oaky. I have found this with the CVNE wines I have tried but I understand that this is seen as a more traditional producer. Or is it certain cuvee which are modern and others more trad? Muga I have also had mixed experiences with.

I am reluctant to spend too much on wines in a region I do not understand but need to get started somewhere.

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I love Rioja, so I’ll bite. (And, as an aside, theres a lovely thread on Wineberserkers where someone has gone to the huge effort of collating every producer in Barolo into modern/traditional/in-between. It took several years, so patience, please :slight_smile: ).

Many wineries now realise that simply sticking to either ‘modern’ or ‘traditional’ is not an economically expeditious way of operating. So they will tend to produce a range of each (or ones that lean that way).

Traditional aspects generally centre around (and I don’t expect this to be an exhaustive list!) long, generally oxidative ageing regimes (We’re all aware of Crianza/Reserva/Gran Reserva right?), where emphasis is put as much on winery production methods as grape quality (to an extent). They will also be aged exclusively in American Oak rather than French - I think the only exception to this last rule is Marques de Riscal.

Traditional wines, therefore, will tend to be lighter, or bricking in colour, tend towards more dried fruit (cherries cranberries etc) than fresh fruit (not in all instances), have touches of leather, and most definitely in their youth will overtly display their oak regimen.

On top of this, they tend towards a bright, almost vinegary acidity (think balsamic rather than malt!). My understanding (as it goes) is also that the long, slightly oxidative ageing gives them a tendency to higher volatile acidity, but also inclines them to be amongst the longest-lived fine wines on earth.

Modern producers (heavily influenced by the successes of Ribeiro del Duero over the last couple of decades) tend to emphasise fruit over winery methods, being at the forefront of single-vineyard bottlings. They tend to pick later for more ripeness, extract more heavily (I hypothesise, but don’t know, that this involves longer macerations. and if they use oak tend to use French or a mix. These wines, in my experience, tend to be ‘bigger’ with darker fruits and a deeper colour, a richer texture and a perceived lower acidity. I really couldn’t offer an opinion on their longevity, as I buy very little of them.


Rioja classification is concentrated on wood aging, and wineries will have wines in the different categories.

Instead of focusing primarily on a winery, look at the type of wine, given by the ‘Reserva’, ‘Grand Reserva’ type definition on the front label - or the seal at the back of the bottle.

There are 4 classifications
Rioja - which need have no or minimal barrel aging - green seal on back
The rest require barrel aging
Crianza wines which are at least in their third year, having spent a minimum of one year in oak barrels.
minimum ageing between oak barrels and the bottle of three years, of which at least one has to be in barrels, followed and complemented by a minimum 6 months’ ageing in the bottle.
Gran Reserva
aged for a total of sixty months with at least two years in oak barrels and two years in the bottle.

There are also regional appellations, but if you don’t like wood, seek the basic Rioja.

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We don’t see much of the joven (unoaked) wines in the UK. I suspect much of the production supplies the Pintxos bars in the neighbouring Basque country (although not at the moment sadly)

I understand that the age/wood classification system is open to abuse by less scrupulous wineries. For example, a producer’s unsold Crianza could, after waiting a year, be relabelled and released onto the market as a Reserva, as it would now meet the bottle-age criterion (having already spent a year in wood). Or something like that.

But perhaps the authorities have found a way to clamp down on this…?

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Arr the new rules in place yet?

A fan ever since i lived in Spain, now sadly many years ago.

I think a lot of producers now fall somewhere in between “traditional” and “modern”. The modern ones tend to have reined back oak and ripeness in recent years, and of the “traditionals” the only house that hasn’t modernised a bit is Lopez Heredia. Imperial, for example, is a different wine from 20 years ago, and that’s the norm in my experience.

My favourite is La Rioja Alta. Too many disappointments with Lopez H, and prices have gone skywards too as it has become a cult thing. i also like a lot of wines that are in between the two extremes, like Remelluri (and to a slightly lesser extent Telmo s other baby, Lanzaga), Contino, Valenciso…

i do drink far more wine from other Spanish regions these days, though.


Regarding liking traditional versus modern style Rioja, I can confirm being firmly and unequivocally in both camps.

Traditional : I love CVNE imperial gran reserva - amazing complexity - but sadly cannot afford it.
Modern: Lidl do a reserva for less than £6 ! - and its all fruit and oak which is fine by me.


My only negative… is that American White Oak is ‘the thing’ for a producer intending to export to the USA and pander to their tastes, yet can be overpowering. French oak is much better in my opinion - but more expensive barrels I imagine.

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There’s some great knowledge there.
I would add a couple of things.
With the modern producers there is a move away from the work in the wineries and more on the vineyards. This is perhaps at its apex at Artadi, who produce single vineyard wines and don’t use Rioja on their labels anymore as their methods wouldn’t fit in the rules. They look to reflect the terroir of their vineyards rather than of Rioja.Their vineyards are quite special places but sit amongst many which would be bottled as traditional wine by their neighbours.
The new rules take some of this on board. You can bottle wines from a single village for instance.
In Traditional Rioja the wineries and vineyards are a separate thing. Often grapes were brought in from the vineyards owners and wine made by them reflecting a large area of the region. However over time bodega have acquired land and at least established relationships with owners, for instance Rioja Alta own all the vines which go into Ardanza, but the granacha comes from south of the region. The most traditional tondonia comes from a single vineyard Tondon which they own and have for years, but as I say it’s the most traditional Rioja. Debate at length whether with all its aging in old oak for years it reflects the vineyard any worse than the Artadi which is steeped in New French oak!
So its complex.
Take RODA very modern winery and a great tour to take. They have vineyards throughout Rioja that they have found from picking what they see as the best terrior to reflect their view of Rioja. The grapes are picked by them,are all driven across the region to Haro and made in a modern way. Different reflections on the region. And Tondonia, Alta and RODA sit next to each other in Haro.




Not really. American oak has never been used for this reason in Spain - it was always used (by all “traditional” producers) because it’s cheaper (the same reason “Slavonian” oak is used in Italy, and in Portugal in the past chestnut).

All the “traditional” producers that most people on here probably enjoy use mostly American in their “traditional” wines, though some are now using French as well, i think. None of them use exclusively French, as far as i know, except for the prestige (“modern”) wines.

I think that true but the age of the oak, the size a
If barrel have a great affect too.

My favourite Riojas from TWS are Rijoa Alta, Navajas, Contino, Muga and Contino and my least favourite was Murua. From a little bit of research I guess that means my preference is for traditional or traditional/modern but not modern.


I am a big fan of Rioja and would like to learn more to be honest. Most of my “knowledge” consists of drinking it and liking it. I am a big fan of Señorío de San Vicente and pretty much anything by Rioja Alta but that is by no means the limit of it just what I am more familiar with.

I do think Spanish wines in general offer a lot of value for money and find that when in Spain anything ordered by the glass is invariably good.

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To follow on from this one of my eureka moments with wine was drinking a ribera del duero to accompany my offal!! while on a tapas tour in Madrid.


I think this is true for all wines I have any ‘knowledge’ of :smiley:


As I recall, Beronia (In fact I’m just googling it now!) produce a 50/50 American/French Oak wine - The staves are one and the top and bottom are the other (I think!).

Yeah, exists, but can’t seem to find the detail.

For those interested in my understanding of who uses what (Or what their intentions are):

La Rioja Alta (Also produce for TWS - I must profess as to never having it):
Vina Alberdi - Still firmly traditional
GR 904 - Same
VIna Ardanza - pretty much traditional, but some movement to modernisation
GR 890 Same as above
Vina Arana (Reserva and Gran Reserva) - Moving from a base of traditional to quite a bit more modern (heavier extraction etc)

CVNE - whole operation has moved with the times to an extent
Imperial - my understanding is that they still market this as traditional, with some more modern winery practices
Vina Real - according to the company, their ‘halfway house’. I like traditional Rioja, but prefer Vina Real to Imperial, so go figure. Ages forever (and in good vintages a bit longer)
Contino - supposedly their modern take on things
Real de Asua - again, modernist (heavier extraction etc). I have been assured they will still age for decades though.

Lopez de Heredia - supposedly the whole operation is uber-traditional, though I believe the Cubillo (entry level) to be a little nod to the modern world. I recommend buying it (The Cubillo) by the container-load to anyone who likes wine (modern or traditional).

Bodegas Riojanas - have handily split their production to traditional and ‘more modern’, so (rule of thumb)-

Anything Albina - firmly traditional
Anything Monte Real - much plusher and more modern.

Of the other big hitters, off the top of my head Marques de Murrieta are still firmly traditional, and Bodegas Muga are moving more modern - ISTR that their Reserva Especial, Torre Muga and Prado Enea have some more modern aspects going on.