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The Independent Guide to Wineries and Wine Tourism in the Rioja Wine Region

6 de abril de 2020

The Rioja Wine Region

Rioja or La Rioja?

It is a common mistake to confuse the area of ​​Rioja wine production with the autonomous community of the same name. In fact, the cultivation area of ​​vine and winemaking covered by the Designation of Origin Rioja is a natural region bounded by geographical features, which includes municipalities in three northeastern provinces of Spain: La Rioja, Alava and Navarra.

Most of these municipalities (116), vineyards (about 41,500 hectares) and wineries (320) is located in La Rioja autonomous community. But the Alava part of the appellation also meets a large number of wineries (264), despite their acreage is much lower (about 13,150 hectares in 18 municipalities). Meanwhile, Navarra provides the D.O.C. Rioja some 6,600 hectares of vineyards and 15 wineries, located in 8 municipalities.

For the purposes of viticulture and enology, however, the Regulatory Council of the PDO ignores these administrative borders, but identifies three production subzones based on their location, climate and soil composition: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. Rioja Alta is located in the northwestern autonomous region of La Rioja. The Rioja Baja is in the east, and includes 42 municipalities and 8 Rioja attached to the name Navarre municipalities. And the Rioja Alavesa is a historic region of Alava, located on the southern border of the Basque Country and separated from the Rioja Alta the Ebro River.


The territory of the DOCa Rioja has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. Several Neolithic burial and funeral monuments are preserved, including some very easy dolmens to visit the Rioja Alavesa, which testify to the existence of small agricultural and pastoral communities around the year 3000 BC.

During the Celtiberian period, the Ebro Valley was occupied mainly by the tribe Berones with Pelendones settlements, Vascones and Arévacos at some points. There are several archaeological sites from this period, among them the ancient city of Contrebia Leukade (Rioja Baja) and the town of La Hoya (Rioja Alavesa).

The Romans arrived in the Rioja Baja in the second century BC and they colonized the Ebro valley and mountainous areas of the south, leaving abundant traces of their passage across the region. The Arabs invaded in the eighth century, but reached no completely dominate all its regions. La Rioja Alavesa was a border territory, and in some areas of Rioja Alta conquerors remained a short time. However, in the Rioja Baja Arabs they settled until the twelfth century and exerted considerable social and cultural influence.

Najera, in the Rioja Alta, was one of the main centers of the Reconquest. Between the tenth and eleventh centuries it housed the court of the Kingdom of Nájera-Pamplona, ​​whose breakup resulted in the kingdoms of Navarre, Castile and Aragon. Throughout the whole medieval period, the Rioja lands were subject to continuous disputes between Navarre and Castile. The latter ended up staying most of what is now La Rioja. In the Alava area, the town of Laguardia changed ownership several times, until in the fifteenth century it was annexed to Castile. Viana, main town of the Navarre designation of origin, was also besieged by the Spaniards several times and surrendered to them in 1512, but a decade later rejoined the Kingdom of Navarra.

It is not known for sure where the name comes from Rioja, which was first written in the late eleventh century as Rioiia. The territories of the current autonomous region belonged to Burgos and Soria until 1833, when it was created the province of Logroño. In 1980 it was renamed the province of La Rioja, and in 1982 was constituted in autonomous community.

Geography and nature

From the geographical point of view, La Rioja can be divided into two main areas. In the north lies the Ebro valley, a strip about 115 kilometers long and between 40 and 60 kilometers wide, traditionally devoted to growing vines, cereals, fruit and vegetables. South a wide mountainous area formed by spurs of the Iberian mountain range stretches. From these mountains they descend to the Ebro seven rivers that form many other valleys.

Moreover, the map of the region is usually divided into three vertical sections from west to east along the Ebro: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Media, whose names and territories overlap with the wine areas defined by the Council of the Designation of Origin. The lands of the Rioja Alta have higher altitude above the sea level low Rioja, as well as a type of climate with Atlantic influences, while the Rioja Baja is typically Mediterranean, warmer and dry, with low mountain region , almond and olive groves.

This peculiar geographical arrangement in valleys and mountains makes La Rioja, despite its small size, possesses eight different types of natural habitat and a remarkable diversity of landscapes: from high mountain ecosystems, rainforests and pastures in the mountains of La Rioja Alta to places in the semi-arid eastern valleys of the Rioja Baja.

A very large part of these lands Southeast was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2003. The reserve covers the valleys of Leza, Jubera, Cidacos and Alhama, and its surface represents 24% of the autonomous region. It also has six integrated ecological areas in the Natura 2000 network, Europe-wide, accounting for 33% of the Rioja Region. These include the Natural Park of Sierra Onion.

La Rioja Alavesa, meanwhile, is a region with capital in Alava Laguardia, located between the Ebro River and the Sierra de Cantabria, with a characteristic relief of hills, slopes and terraces covered with vineyards. Navarre municipalities assigned to the D.O.C. Rioja is also located on the banks of the Ebro, in northern La Rioja Media and Rioja Baja, and share with them the climate and Mediterranean cultures.


The autonomous region of La Rioja is the second smallest of Spain, just over the Balearic Islands, and the least populated. Is less than 310,000 inhabitants, of which almost half live in the capital, Logroño.

It is a largely rural region. However, agriculture is only fourth among the branches of economic activity, below the service sector, industry and construction. Within the agricultural sector, growing grapes accounts for half of revenue, followed by the production of vegetables, fruits and cereals. In the industrial sector, the most prominent branch is the food and drinks, but the region also has an important industry of metal products, rubber and footwear.

In the Rioja Alavesa, with 12,000 inhabitants, the economy is based on growing grapes and making wine. Municipalities seconded to the Designation of Origin Rioja Navarre banks also have a large agricultural wealth, which has led to related industries such as canning. Wine production shares the spotlight on them with other products with designation of origin, Navarre asparagus and piquillo peppers.

In economic terms, La Rioja has always been located in the upper stretch of the Spanish regions with levels of per capita income above the national average. The Basque Country and Navarra, which is part of the territory of the appellation of origin, have even higher levels, at the head of Spain income.


The La Rioja lands retain vestiges of various peoples that inhabited in antiquity and the early Middle Ages: Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs ... The period of greatest cultural relevance of the region corresponds to the Middle Ages. Najera became the tenth century court of the Kingdom of Nájera-Pamplona and one of the main centers of the Reconquest; various monasteries played an important role as diffusers centers of Christian culture of the time, and the Way of Santiago crossed from Navarra La Rioja.

Among the monasteries, include the Santa María la Real de Nájera and Yuso and Suso in San Millan, declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Suso were found in the first sentences known in Basque and Romance language (the primitive Castilian), recorded by an anonymous monk at the margins of a Latin manuscript. There also lived Gonzalo de Berceo, considered the first poet in Spanish.

The Camino de Santiago has two itineraries in the region: the Camino del Ebro, which comes from Tarragona and passes through Alfaro, Calahorra and Logroño, and the French Way, the busiest since the Middle Ages, which passes through the Navarran town of Viana, attached to the DOC Rioja, and crosses Logroño, Nájera and Santo Domingo de la Calzada (one of the historical landmarks of the pilgrimage route) before entering Burgos.


In La Rioja, and Navarre and the Basque Country, gastronomy is an important part of everyday life. Dominated by a traditional, less innovative than their northern neighbors, based on product quality cuisine. Its prestige lies largely in the wealth of regional orchard, which provides excellent vegetables and meats from the mountain areas.

It is very significant the Rioja sausage, made with sweet or spicy paprika and thinner than in Castile and southern Spain. Much less known to the general public, but widely consumed in the Rioja Baja and Logroño is the sweet black pudding, which can be enjoyed raw, grilled or roasted. In the Sierra de Cameros goat cheeses of great quality and low distribution in other areas of Spain are made.

Navarre municipalities assigned to the D.O.C. Rioja have excellent own products, such as red peppers and asparagus from Navarra, which are consumed across the Ebro.

Typical dishes Rioja cuisine include:

  • Potatoes Rioja. Stewed with chorizo. A very simple recipe but certainly characteristic of the region, including the Rioja Alavesa.
  • Stew. This assortment of vegetables to appreciate the quality of Rioja orchard. Sometimes single vegetables, cooked and seasoned with olive oil are presented, and other are added small pieces of chorizo ​​and other ingredients. Is typical stew with artichokes natural battered.
  • Caparrones. The caparrón is a variety of red, small, round bean. The stew is prepared in a clay pot and may include various "setbacks": sausage, mutton, bacon ... They have fame caparrones Anguiano and Castanares.
  • Cod Rioja. Stew in a clay pot with tomato and red peppers, one of the basic ingredients of the regional cuisine.
  • Grilled chops to shoot. The rack of lamb chops are. In La Rioja they are grilling on the embers of a bonfire made with branches, branches of the vine.
  • Beans with quail. The white beans are a variety of white bean thin skin and soft texture typical of La Rioja and Navarre. White beans with quail are considered a traditional dish Rioja.
  • Products boiled. A more typical dish of bars and restaurants. The sausage casings are lamb or goat, which thread forming a skein and roasted in the oven or cut into slices and fry in a pan.
  • Fardelejos. A typical sweet of Arab origin of Arnedo, in the Rioja Baja. They are made with almond pastry filled.
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