Rioja Wine – What’s all the fuss about?

Photo © Ryan Opaz

A few questions popped into my head recently about Rioja wines, about their predominance in the Spanish market amongst other things. Who better to clear up my doubts, I thought, than my good friend Ryan, at Read on, and do check out his great site on Spanish wines.

Q: Why have a majority of people outside Spain only ever heard of La Rioja wines?

A: Marketing, that’s it really, and money. Rioja has invested early and well. Today the name Rioja stands apart from Spanish wine. In fact a recent survey by the Wine Academy of Spain found that 2 out of 10 wine drinkers recognized Tempranillo (primary grape used in Rioja) as a variety and 68% of wine drinkers thought Rioja was in Italy.

Q: Do they actually make some of the best wines in Spain?

A: Yes, and like any region in Spain they also make some of the worst. Wine is in most cases subjective, and therefore if you don’t like wine from Rioja don’t drink it, and if you do like it, well then do drink it. I would say that 80% or more of the Rioja on my supermarket shelf here in Terrassa, Cataluña, is pure rubbish. But the name sells so people buy it. Sad really.

Q: What Rioja wines should people look out for in Spain or abroad?

A: Really I think that most Rioja wines become interesting at the 10 euro price point. Sure there are cheaper ones worth considering, but in the end you get to 10 euros and most times you get a wine worth the money. Names I have always had luck with include: Muga, LAN, Lopez de Heredia, and RODA, none of which should surprise anyone, though I would look to new names such as Bodegas Tobia, a winery that is really tryinig to do new things, while at the same time respecting traditon.

Q: Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva – Does it really matter?

A: Yes and no. The best value you can get is from a Crianza. Usually they are not overpriced and are still full of fruit and vigor. Whereas Reservas and Gran Reservas can be over-priced and unless you know where to reach you can find yourself with a glass of tired grape juice.

Q: I want to do a bit of wine tourism in La Rioja, where should I head for?

A: Head to and check out what they have to offer. Rioja right now is working hard to show itself as a complete package. You can ride horses, take a balloon ride, see dinosaur tracks, visit ancient cities, and eat some amazing foods, all this and you’ll never be far from a great glass of wine.

Q: Any final La Rioja thoughts?

A: Follow us next week as we spend a week in Rioja tasting wines, visitng bodegas and doing a few things off the beaten track. I am a Rioja skeptic. I know Rioja makes great wines, but lately I’ve had trouble finding them. This next week is my chance to explore and search for some of the hidden treasures in Rioja. I’m really looking forward to what we find.

Thanks Ryan! Head over to to follow Ryan as he spends a great week in La Rioja, and do let us know, do you drink it? Or do you venture into other wine regions of Spain?