Rioja Oriental – A Cinderella Story #WorldWineTravel

World Wine Travel for 2021 is Spain, starting with La Rioja in January
Welcome to 2021 and our World Wine Travel blogging group! Our charter is to work our way around the world of wine, virtually. In 2021, we’re going to be taking a leisurely tour of Spain. Come and join us every month for our visit to a new region. January takes us to perhaps the most famous region, La Rioja. It’s not just me, we have a merry band of bloggers all traveling together, simply scroll down to the bottom of this post for links to all their posts.

The Rioja wine region is divided into 3 subregions. One of the regions recently went through a name change to Rioja Oriental

Rioja Classification Problems
Many old world countries have official quality classification systems to steer consumers to everyday wines as well as those for special occasions. These systems typically break levels into regional, village, and single vineyards for the quality of grapes from that place, year in and out.

Spain’s system to a different approach, based only on aging once the wine is in the cellar at the winery. This system ignored the vineyard location and quality, grapes could come from anywhere in Rioja. The only thing that mattered was cellar aging: 24 total month for Crianza, 36 months for Reserva, and 60 months for Gran Reserva.

Do you love a good Cinderella Story? Here’s One in the Making
This system created our Cinderella story. The Two Evil Stepsisters, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa had all the riches. Poor Cinderella, Rioja Baja, was even named as “lower” (Baja in Spanish). Rioja Baja had no villages with major train stations, like Haro in Rioja Alta. Or bigger cities like Logrono in Rioja Alavesa. Vineyards in Baja were relegated to the basement, merely supplying grapes to the well heeled wineries in Alta and Alavesa. Sigh.

Here’s the Rioja Classifications Graphic in a full size .pdf if you’re interested in the details

Get Ready for the Grand Ball
Lo and behold, in 2018 Rioja Baja gets a new name: Rioja Oriental, which means “East” in Spanish, much better, granted a little odd for English speakers. Not only that, but new classifications are approved which promote labeling where the grapes are from. This new system is much more in line with how the rest of Europe classifies, getting to the quality of the vineyard. This is Rioja Oriental’s opportunity to step up in the Rioja world! New Classifications –

  • Vino de Zona – grapes grown in the zone, vinified and aged at the winery in the zone. With 2018 vintage, look for VZ to be added to the small white Rioja label
  • Vino de Municipio – same as above, but everything is in the municpality, and the symbol added will be VM.
  • Viñedo Singular – Long established single estate vineyard, made and bottled on the estate. Viñedo Singular will appear on the Rioja label.

Zonal classification and renaming will have a positive effect on Rioja Oriental. In the past, growers sold their grapes to the well known bodegas in Rioja Alta and Alavesa, and even replanted their Garnacha vines over to the more desired Tempranillo. Due to low grape prices, many premium hillside plots were abandoned since they required more hand labor. Now, Rioja Oriental winemakers are taking a new pride in their zone. With some additional outside investment, Garnacha is being replanted, hillside plots are being reclaimed and there is a new energy with both established wineries and a new generation of winemakers making their home in Rioja Oriental. In fact, the new labeling is just on the verge of coming to the market with the 2018 vintage. Cinderella’s time has arrived, the grand ball is just starting, midnight hasn’t struck, lets go looking for glass slippers!

Rio Oriental Bodegas to Search Out
Here are a few of the bodegas associated with Rioja Oriental you mind find in a local wine shop:

  • Bodegas D Mateos
  • Bodegas Burgo Viejo
  • Arizcuren Bodega y Viñedos
  • Bodegas Ontañón
  • Bodegas Palacios Remondo
  • Viña Herminia
  • Viñedos Real Rubio

Viña Herminia Rioja Crianza 2014

Viña Herminia Rioja Crianza 2014 ($16 locally or online here) 14% abv
85% Tempranillo 15% Garnacha 12 months in American and French oak barrels, 6 months in bottle. Viña Herminia was established in 1949 and named after the founders wife. They produce a full range of white, rosado and red Rioja wines.

Eye: medium garnet
Nose: medium plus intensity aromas of ripe strawberries, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, slight note of fresh thyme, subtle vanilla and leather.
Mouth: dry, medium plus acidity, medium plus slightly chalky tannins, medium plus body, high alcohol, medium plus finish. Flavors match the nose with ripe red and black fruit with subtle earth behind.
Observations: Stylewise, this balances well between a modern approach and traditional approach. There is good fruit and vanilla and also a bit of savory leather.

Bodegas Palacios Remondo La Montesa Rioja Crianza 2016 ($20 locally or online here) 14.5%
unfiltered. 92% Garnacha, 8% other grapes. The eastern subregion in Rioja is warmer and drier, so Garnacha is a better choice in many vineyards. While we often expect a majority of Tempranillo, that is not always the case! The Palacios family has winery operations in multiple areas of Spain. Palacios Remondo is the long time family property in Rioja Oriental, established in 1945.

Eye: Medium ruby
Nose: Medium intensity aromas of ripe blueberries, blackberries, black plums with definite earthy notes of forest floor, mushrooms
Mouth: Dry, medium acidity, medium fine grained tannins, medium plus body, high alcohol, medium finish. Flavors echo the nose with medium intensity blue/black fruits and savory earthy notes.
Observations: This wine is a bit more traditional in approach with the savory notes in front of the fruit.

We enjoyed the wines with our attempt at a traditional Patatas a la Riojana potato and Spanish chorizo stew.

Rioja Oriental Wines with Patatas a la Riojana
When exploring a new region, I usually try to find a traditional dish. After a bit of searching, I landed on a stew from Rioja. I had to smile, as I was initially going to try a recipe posted by William Sonoma until I read one of the comments from Valvanera. Ouch! It sounded authentic, so I moved on to a hopefully better choice. Here’s the recipe  we used. A simple dish but it was delicious, I was lucky to find some Spanish Chorizo as they warn NOT to use the more common Mexican version, it’s not the same. Both wines were very nice with the soup, even with that dash of red pepper.

Links to World Wine Travel Bloggers Exploration of Rioja
Take a look below to learn something new about Rioja and Rioja wines. After reading some posts, you’ll want to join our chat. Look for us on Twitter at #WorldWineTravel on Saturday Jan. 23 from 10-11am Central Time.

32 Responses to “Rioja Oriental – A Cinderella Story #WorldWineTravel”
  1. wendyklik says:

    Wow….great information Jeff. I have little knowledge of the wines of Spain. So glad you started this group.

  2. Andrea Lemieux says:

    That’s really fascinating background! I learned a little about the new classifications in my research but had never connected the classification system to the exclusion of site importance! Thank you for delving into that so much.

  3. culinarycam says:

    Thank you for starting this group, Jeff. And thanks, as always, for the information and inspiration. Ready to dive into the wines of Spain with this group. Also looking up that potato choriizo stew. Maybe dinner tonight!

  4. advinetures says:

    Loved this article Jeff and such a great analogy with the story. We are big Rioja fans and have been there twice but confess we know very little about “Cinderella” compared to her two (not so?) evil step sisters ;). Seems like more research is in our future!

  5. Interesting! I didn’t know Rioja was starting to move to a geographic zone system. Seems to be a good idea. These wines sound good for the dish!

  6. joyofwine says:

    I know of some Cinderella stories in Italy but had no idea of this one in Spain! Thanks for the info. The soup looks delicious too!

  7. Will be interesting to see how this new classification system impacts Rioja wines. Seems like a step in the right direction. Lots of our bloggers used Chorizo in their pairings. Thanks for the heads-up to use the Spanish kind.

  8. Nicole Ruiz Hudson says:

    Thanks for the in depth breakdown and explanation of the new classifications, and it will be exciting to see the changes for Rioja Oriental.

  9. robincgc says:

    Thanks so much for shining a light on this region! While learning about Rioja, it usually gets no more than a footnote. It is nice to see that the new regulations are making a difference and perhaps giving this region an opportunity to really shine.

  10. winolodotpl says:

    Great post dude, I like it like Pinot Noir 🙂

  11. Thanks for hosting Jeff! And for your very informative post. Sue had to explain the difference in chorizo a few years ago; living in California I had no idea but it really is different and I much prefer the Spanish one.

  12. It’s going to be exciting to see – and taste – the wines of Rioja Oriental going forward. Love the idea of reclaiming slope-side vineyards and replanting Garnacha.

  13. Lynn says:

    Super metaphoric story! And a great way to remember a few things for exams. I’m all eyes and ears to see how those from the east will release and market their wines given the change. How is the marketing of these changes going in the US, meaning is it evident yet in wine shops carrying Rioja?

  14. A great Cindarella story indeed Jeff. I didn’t realize that “Oriental” represented the East! I love your pairing. I’m going to have to try it myself!

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