There are three main Rioja regions – Rioja Alavesa, on the northern side of the river Ebro, Rioja Alta, south of the Ebro and Rioja Baja further south again.
Each region has a dominant grape variety although Tempranillo, the classic Spanish grape, is prevalent throughout. Most Rioja wine that you buy will be a blend from grapes from all three regions.
Rioja wines are mostly red although rose and white wines are also produced (making up about 25% of total production) as well as some cava.
Spanish wine makers are restricted to certain grape varietals. For red wines, Tempranillo and Garnacha are the most planted, with wines made from Tempranillo tending to age very well. For white wines, Viura and Malvasia are the dominant grape varietals.
I'm a big fan of the old classic Marques de Caceres. The wine makers know just how to achieve consistency across the vintages. 2004 was a very good year for Rioja but 2005 was even better and you can still find both available.
If you are after a white Rioja (for some reason), then why not splash out on the Rioja Blanco Capellania 1998 Marqués de Murrieta, from one of the most famous Bodegas in Spain.
Unusual and distinctive, this wine was oak matured for over 3 years imparting lashings of vanilla, toasty characters. The smooth finish just lingers on and on.
Check out a selection of wines from Rioja here.
Learn more about Spanish wine vintages here.