Bodegas Benjamin Rothschild and Vega Sicilia Macan Clasico 2011
About the Region
Until recent years the most famous Spanish red wine by far, Rioja is made in a region covering about 200 square miles, including portions of La Rioja, Navarra, and the Basque Country. Though white and rosé wines are produced here, the region's reputation is based on its complex, elegant reds. These are based primarily on tempranillo, with garnacha (grenache), graciano, and mazuelo often blended in, in smaller quantities. Though cabernet sauvignon is not permitted across the denominación, there are old plantings of the grape in the area and some producers have received permission to include it in their blends (Marqués de Riscal is the most prominent of these). Whites are based on viura (the local name for macabeo) and may include garnacha blanca and malvasia. A bit of viura was traditionally added to red Rioja blends for added acidity, but this practice has pretty much died out. One producer, Remelluri, blends Rhône varieties — viognier, marsanne, and roussanne — with local grapes for a unique white wine. Wine has been made in the region for more than 1,000 years, but Rioja as we know it today was first developed in the second half of the 1850s, and by the latter part of the 19th century, the reds had earned an international reputation for their quality and finesse. The Rioja wine region is divided into three parts; Rioja Alta, to the west, known for lighter, more traditional-style wines; Rioja Alavesa, at a lower elevation that Rioja Alta, producing richer wines, sometimes in a more modern style; and Rioja Baja, whose warmer, drier climate yields wines with dark color, intense flavors, and high alcohol. Many producers blend wines from this region with other Rioja for balance.