Tim Atkin and his vision on La Rioja in 2018

Tim Atkin has just released a new report on the health of Rioja wines. In this report, “The Master of wine” critic praises the advances of the region in comparison to 2017. He has also explained which have been its best wines and the best producers, all categorised according to quality parameters. This categorisation originally comes from France, specifically from Bordeaux. Here, in 1855, the emperor Napoleon III ordered to create a classification of the best wines for the world exposition in Paris that took place that same year.

Here is the classification:

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Tim Atkin sees a general change of trend in La Rioja. The classic crianzas and reservas are being changes for wines that are more intended to show us the terroir. This idea leads to the creation of “village wines” (vinos de pueblo), to create a character with more identity in the subareas of Rioja.

The critic highlights the 10 key aspects of the region:

  1. La Rioja is the most famous and internationally recognised Spanish wine region. There is a clear differentiation of three subareas: Rioja AlavesaRioja Altaand Rioja Baja. Very different wines are produced in these three subareas. Each year, the number of hectares they plant increases.
  2. Great blending producers coexist with small producers of “vinos de paraje”. The great classic wineries, like CVNEand López de Heredia, produce their wines in search for the qualities of each area. They combine the acidity and freshness of the higher area, with the more fruity grapes of the Grenache variety from Rioja Baja. On the other hand, there are other viticulturists who focus on “vinos de paraje”. In the case of Abel Mendoza, in the area of San Vicente de la Sonsierra; Telmo Rodriguez, in Lanciego; and Álvaro Palacios, in Monte Yerga.
  3. Vintages greatly influenced by the climate. We have the extension and particularities of the Riojan geography, where two clearly differentiated climatic influences coexist, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. This can be seen in the route from Alfaro to Lanciego, where we can experience this in the temperatures and the change of vegetation.
  4. Climate change. This increasingly noticeable phenomenon can been seen in the region, with an increase in temperatures and a decrease in rainfall. The producers are looking for solutions to this reality, and this is why they move to higher areas, like Ábalos. In Baigorri, they look for the varieties like Mazuelo and Graciano, the acidity and the freshness to combat the effects of the change. Benjamin Romeo thinks that the increase of the alcoholic strength is due to the fertilisers high in potassium that have been used on the vines.
  5. Tempranillo. Today, this variety occupies 79% of the plantations in La Rioja. Since irrigation began in the 70s, extensive cultivation began in the lower area of Rioja. The main reason for this was financial. There was a highly-productive clone that was resistant to plagues, and it had great international recognition.
  6. Grenache. This variety has regained its ground thanks to its good adjustment to Mediterranean climates. Viticulturists like ArizcurenPalacios RemondoRamón BilbaoValdemarand Olivier Riviereare cultivating it again in the Oriental Rioja.
  7. White wine from Rioja is progressing well: From the D.O. they have encouraged the cultivation of white varieties. They have allowed the incorporation of international varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Verdejo. But also of native varieties like Maturana BlancaTorrontésor White Tempranillo. As of today, the points given to white wines by Tim Atkin have increases, and producers like Tondonia, Murrieta and Abel Mendoza are in the top positions.
  8. Promising young wines of Rioja: In the region, grapes can still be purchased for a good price, and therefore, vineyards too. Therefore, many young people have chosen to create their own winery. This is the case of Olivier Riviere, who arrived in the area with just € 1000 in his pocket. Now, he produced around 120,000 bottles. The group Rioja n Roll, with many young winemakers, is also a clear example of the chances that young winemakers can have in Rioja.
  9. Rioja has to go further: Except for wines that stand out, like Quiñon de Valmira by Álvaro Palaciosor Las Beatas by Telmo Rodríguez, with prices exceeding €100/€200. These wines reflect a great quality, with scores that are over 95 points. But the reality is different. The vast majority of wines are sold very cheap and brands such as “Reserva”, with a minimum of 4 years ageing in the winery, are sold at € 3.95. There is the though that it has to be sold cheap, and this has to change. This is the greatest challenge of Rioja.
  10. Times are changing: there are two kinds of producers that have to be differentiated. The great producers of large volumes of wine, like Campo ViejoEl CotoFaustino, who control the board of the Regulatory Council, and the majority of litres that are qualified in the D.O.; and the small producers that search for the value of the wines made in the D.O. through a hierarchy that classifies the vineyards. This is the great challenge they face for the great future of La Rioja.
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