Those from the appellation Rioja are doubtlessly the most internationally acclaimed Spanish wines. The wine producing area of La Rioja is placed in the middle course of the Ebro River, being a part of its depression. The north limits with the Sierra de Cantabria and the south with Sierra de la Demanda. Rioja wines are grouped in 144 municipalities.
The 63.000 hectares of the DOC Rioja are contained mainly in the autonomous community of La Rioja, the south part of Álava (Basque Country) and some municipalities at the south of Navarra. There are three sub-areas included in the DOC Rioja: Rioja Alta, with 43.000 hectares of vineyards, Rioja Alavesa, with 13.000 hectares and Rioja Baja with 7.000 hectares.
In the continental (Atlantic) extreme climate of Rioja Alta, where vineyards spread over a gentle topography of clay and limestone soils, ferrous and alluvial terrains, Tempranillo variety stands out for the production of balanced red wines, with elegant aromas, stability and high acidity.
The Rioja Alavesa for its side has both Atlantic and Mediterranean influence, short summers and temperate winters, with some frost but little snow. Here the vineyards are arranged facing east, protected by the Sierra de Cantabria, in clay-limestone soils. This sub-area produces Tempranillo red wines, both young and barrel aged, with average alcoholic content and acidity. The production of carbonic maceration wines is common. On a Tempranillo base, with small contributions of Garnacha, Mazuelo and Viura, great Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva from DOC Rioja are produced, wines up to the quality standard of the most famous wines in the world. Some young and oak-barrel aged white wines are produced also.
Rioja Baja, with Mediterranean climate, is distinguished by the fruitful nature of the terrains, which furnish good harvests with perfectly ripened grapes. In this ferrous-clay soils, Garnacha variety develops particularly well, and is used in the production of red and rosé aromatic wines, low in acidity and with higher extract and alcoholic content. The lots in this area are flat, bigger in size and with deeper soils compared to the other ones, with plenty of boulders that fall from up to 300 metres.
Different category wines are produced in Rioja depending on the ageing process: harvest wine is the wine produced and sold only months after being bottled. It also includes other wines that do not fit in the ranks crianza, reserva or gran reserva, despite having gone through some ageing process. Crianza wine is the one that has rested at least one year in oak-barrel and six months minimum in bottle; reserva wine has a minimum of three years ageing between barrel and bottle, being at least one year in barrel, and finally the gran reserva wine, where wine is at least two years oak-barrel aged and three years ageing in bottle.