Groundbreaking new regulations in DOCa Rioja
Spain stands out among many wine producing countries for the fact that wines are primarily classified by the amount of time they spend in oak, with the terms “Crianza”, “Reserva” and “Gran Reserva” setting minimums for ageing in barrel and bottle. This has the major benefit of meaning that most wines are released ready to drink – rather than needing to be laid down in cellars as is the case for top Bordeaux wines – but some Spanish producers have been calling for updated classifications that allow the specification of the origin of the grapes, as, of course, the vineyard characteristics are responsible for much of a wine’s final quality.
Although DO Cava, DO Cataluña and DOQ Priorat have already started to introduce regulations to designate “Vi de Finca” or “Estate Wines”, the announcement that Spain’s largest and most famous exporting region, DOCa Rioja, has approved the first stage of new classifications that will allow the identification of wines from a “Single Vineyard” marks a turning point for the industry. The new mention seeks to set specific vineyards apart from their surroundings, with specific technical requirements, including vine age of more than 35 years, and yields at least 20% below those allowed generally, along with manual harvesting and quality assessment.
Although it will be several years before we see wines with the new labelling on the market, William Long comments on the possible effects of the new category for the export market:
“Although the new Rioja Single Vineyard category will add value to the top end of the pyramid, I am dubious about its value for the mainstream market. One of the great strengths of wines like our Finca Mónica is the ability of the winery to be able to blend across areas and offer consistent quality, value-for-money and bright, focused fruit year-after-year.”
The other major new change is the fact that sparkling wines from Rioja will be able to be labelled as such. Up until now, parts of the Rioja DOCa area were also part of the Cava DO, meaning that sparkling wines produced according to Cava regulations in these areas of Rioja were labelled Cava. With the new regulations, sparkling wines produced in the region using the traditional method and aged for a minimum of 15 months (more than for basic Cava) will now be able to be labelled as Rioja.
William Long sees the new regulation as positive for big Rioja brands but potentially contentious for other sparkling wine producers across Spain:
“It seems great for major Rioja brands to be able to offer branded line extensions across still and sparkling categories but whether Rioja has the right vineyards and grape varieties for sparkling wine production without blending in wines from traditional Cava vineyards in Catalonia is a major question mark in my mind. The good thing for consumers is that it could encourage Cava producers to communicate more clearly where their fruit comes from, as a point of difference for products like De Pró produced in the heart of Catalonia, the source of the best Cava grapes.”