DoCa Rioja

DO status awarded in 1947.
DoCa status awarded in 1991.


Perhaps the most famous of all the DOs in Spain, Rioja is situated in the north of Spain, south of Bilbao, between the rivers Oja and Ebro. The region has three distinct zones, Rioja Alavesa in the north, Rioja Alta in the highlands to the south (both around 400-500m above sea level) and Rioja Baja (around 300m above sea level), which borders Navarra to the east.

As the first region to establish a Consejo Regulador in 1926, Rioja wine was also the first to obtain Denominación de Origen (DO) Status, when in 1947 it claimed full accreditation. In 1988, the Spanish authorities recognized a new, higher grade called Denominación de Origen Calificada (DoCa), but waited until 1991 before awarding the wines of Rioja this status.


The three zones of Rioja each have their own micro-climates. Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa stand higher and tend to be slightly cooler and wetter than Rioja Baja, which tends to have a more Mediterranean climate. In all three areas the summers are hot, with up to 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. Autumns are often long and mild, but the winters can be cold with harsh frosts that can affect the vines and reduce yield. Snow is not unusual in January and February in Rioja Alta and Alavesa. As a result of these climatic differences the wines from these zones vary significantly. The cooler climate of Rioja Alavesa encourages growers to plant early-ripening grapes which produce younger, fresher wines made for early drinking. Rioja Alta, with hot summers and cool winters, is reputed to produce some of the best wines from the DO while Rioja Baja, with its hotter, drier climate produces more peppery, spicy wines.

Rioja Alta and Alavesa can have up to 450mm of rain a year, while Rioja Baja experiences a little less, at around 300-350mm.


In Rioja Alavesa to the north, the soil is chalk-rich clay. The soil in Rioja Alta is also chalk-rich, but with outcrops of iron (ferruginous clay), whilst Rioja Baja is mainly alluvial clay from the river Ebro. The chalky areas (calcareous clay) produce the finest grapes, but the grapes grown in ferruginous clay contain metallic trace elements that can make the difference between a good and a great wine.


Permitted varieties of grape for the production of red wine include Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazeulo and Graciano, with experimental plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Permitted varieties of grape for the production of white wine include Viura, Malvasía Riojana and Garnacha Blanca.

Consejo Regulador for DoCa Rioja

C/Estrambrera, 52
26006 Logroño
Tel: +34 941 500400
Fax: +34 941 500664
© 2003-2008 Decanter Wines Limited, Leatherhead, Surrey
Telephone: +44 (0)1372 376 127 Fax: +44 (0)1372 386 615