Rioja is located in North Central Spain. It’s about 2 hours drive from Bilbao in a valley along the Ebro River. The entire valley is moderated by the Sierra Cantabria, a small but jagged mountain range that stops clouds from coming into the Rioja valley.
This historic wine region is divided into 3 regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Alta lies to the west, south of the winding Ebro River and naturally, the highest area of the region. Alavesa is Basque and is located in the Alava province. Baja (Low) lies to the east and is notably the warmest of the three. Throughout the region, Tempranillo is the principal grape variety but Garnacha, Graciano and Mazeulo (Carignan) are also used to good effect. The white grape Viura also makes up about a 7th of all plantings producing white Rioja.
For Rioja wines to achieve Crianza status they are aged for at least twelve months in oak barrels and another 12 months in bottle. The next level is Reserva where the wines are aged for at least one year in barrel and a further two years in bottle and Gran Reserva Rioja’s are aged in oak barrels for at least two years and another three years in bottle.