Arguably Spain’s most famous wine region, located in the North end of the country. The Cantabrian mountains shelter the region from cool and wet weather from the Atlantic making the area quite warm and dry. The region is a predominantly red region. In addition to Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan) are also used in red wines. All top-end red Rioja wine is matured in new oak barrels; American oak is the traditional preference, but many wineries now use a mix of American and French oak. This contact with new oak is what gives Rioja wine its distinctive notes of coconut, vanilla and sweet spices. The region itself is divided into three sub-regions based on climate and soil types. Rioja Alavesa is the furthest North, has the highest rainfall and has mostly clay soils. Wines from this area are considered to be the lightest and most elegant. Rioja Alto is warmer and drier with iron-rich clay soils, and produces Tempranillo with more body and structure than Alavesa. Further down the Ebro river is the Rioja Baja, which is the hottest and driest of the subregions and which has more alluvial soils. Garnacha is able to ripen well in this region, and the grape tends to dominate plantings here.

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