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Everything you need to know about Rioja’s new rules

Rioja has launched a new global marketing campaign to highlight a series of changes to the region’s quality tiers and regulations – but what’s different, and why?

The Rioja regulatory board has created a three-word Spanish strapline meaning ‘knowing who you are’

As the drinks business reported earlier this week, the Rioja regulatory board has created a three-word Spanish strapline – Saber Quién Eres (meaning ‘knowing who you are’) – as part of a rebrand for the region, which follows a range of regulatory developments designed to extend the offer from Rioja.

Among these are a series of new indications including Vinos de Zona, Vinos de MunicipioViñedos SingularesEspumosos de Calidad de Rioja, as well as new ageing requirements for Reserva and Gran Reserva wines, and the permitted production of single varietal white wines.

Over the following pages we look at these changes in detail, and why they have been put in place, while the graphics below show the new structure for the region, with the concentric rings highlighting the different breadths of the terroir-related classifications, and the second image showing how these new indications are used in conjunction with the existing rules, which relate to the time a wine has spent ageing, either in bottle or barrel, or both.

It is important to note, as the second graphic shows, that the previous entry-level classification for Rioja, which was called ‘joven’, has now been replaced by the term ‘generico’.

The new zones: Rioja ‘generico’; Vinos de Zona; Vinos de Municipio, and, at the centre, Viñedos Singulares
The site-related classifications can be used in conjunction with the existing rules regarding ageing

Meanwhile, the addition of a new category for sparkling wines from the region is also noteworthy, as those producers that currently make traditional method fizz can label it as DO Cava. Will they want to take on the name Rioja for such wines in place of Cava?

Head of the Consejo Regulador, José Luis Lapuente, told db that they won’t be able to use both. He also said that although sparkling Rioja would be “a niche product”, it has been approved to augment the region’s offer and tap into the growing demand for sparkling wines in markets such as the UK. The move predates the decision by Catalonia’s parliament to declare independence from Spain, so it is not a reaction to this political development by a region that accounts for more than 90% of all Cava production.

Presently, Lapuente said that eight producers in Rioja had harvested grapes from the 2017 vintage in order to make a sparkling wine under the new classification, and that such products would not reach the market until next year at the earliest.

1. Viñedos Singulares

The most significant change to the nature of Rioja’s quality tiering comes with the addition of a completely new category, called Viñedos Singulares.

Designed to highlight the terroir and origins of the wine, as well as reflect the diversity of the region, it was introduced in June 2017.

As reported by db at the time, the new category followed a long-running battle over Spanish terroir between The Regulatory Council of the Designated Origin Denomination of Origin (DOCa) and more than 150 producers, who argued that the current appellation system was “oblivious to soil differentiation and levels of quality” and calling for “deep changes” to boost the countries heritage and prevent it valuing quantity over quality.

The new category can be used in conjunction with existing quality tiering in Rioja, which concerns the length of time a wine is aged in barrel and bottle.

Those who choose to use the new category must conform to the following requirements on the label:

• The commercial labels will show the vineyard name, which must be registered as a brand.
• The term ‘Viñedo Singular’ must appear directly underneath the vineyard name, and the text size must not be larger than the word ‘Rioja’ on the label.
• The guarantee seals on the back of the bottle will keep the traditional ageing classifications, but will now also include ‘Viñedo Singular’.
• The guarantee seal might read, ‘Crianza Viñedo Singular’, or ‘Gran Reserva Viñedo Singular’.

Meanwhile, the requirements for becoming a Viñedos Singulares are listed below:

• If grapes have been purchased from a grower, then the winery must have had a commercial partnership for at least 10 years.
• Vineyards must be at least 35 years old.
• Yields must be below those currently allowed for Rioja (Maximum of 5,000 kg/Ha. for 
red and 6,922 kg/Ha. for white).
• Volume of wine obtained for each 100 kg of grapes must be 65%.
• Vineyards must be well-balanced with limited vigour.
• Hand-harvested.
• Production traceability with prior checks.
• Double quality assessment which involves an initial certification and then certification prior to release which must receive a rating of ‘excellent’.

2. Vinos de Municipio and Vinos de Zona

The use of Vinos de Municipio and Vinos de Zona is an update on Rioja labelling that is already permitted. Wineries have been allowed to reference their zone of production since 1998, and to name the village or town since 1999.

In 2017, there were a series of alterations to these regulations in order to achieve greater visibility for the villages/towns and zones.

How will these changes for Vinos de Zona and Vinos de Municipio appear on the label?

• The sub-regions Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental (previously Baja) are now known as Zonas.
• Municipios (municipalities)/Pueblos (villages and towns) or Zonas can now be the same text size as Rioja on the label (previously they were only allowed to be two thirds the size of the word Rioja).
• While the labelling will be similar, there will be an additional mention such as ‘Vino de Haro’ or ‘Vino de Samaniego’.

The requirements for Vinos de Zona (Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Oriental) are:

• Traceability of production.
• A legal change has been submitted to allow 15% of grapes to come from a neighbouring 
zone (for example, 85% from Rioja Alta and 15% from Rioja Alavesa).
• If grapes have been purchased (up to 15% as indicated above), then the winery must 
have had a commercial partnership for at least 10 years. May be the same text size as Rioja on label.

The requirements for Vinos de Municipio are:

• Traceability of production.
• The winery must be located in the village.
• A legal change has been submitted to allow 15% of grapes to come from a neighbouring 
village, although a commercial partnership of at least 10 years will be required.
• The mention of the municipio may be same text size as Rioja on label.

3. Ageing Requirements

In July 2017, the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja introduced new ageing requirements to allow producers greater flexibility for ageing in bottle.

For Reserva these are:

• Aged for a total of three years, including a minimum of 12 months in oak and 6 months in bottle (previously there was no minimum for bottle ageing). This change was introduced in July 2017, and will be effective from January 1, 2019.

For Gran Reserva these are:

• Aged for a total of five years, including a minimum of 24 months in oak and 24 months in bottle.
• While the overall ageing period has not changed, there is now flexibility for the time spent in 
bottle, which was previously 36 months. This comes into effect now. 

4. Single varietal white wines

Following the decision in 2007 to allow a wider range of permitted grapes, white wines produced in Rioja have enjoyed a rise in plantings and international prominence.

Currently there are approximately 1,500 hectares of white grapes planted across Rioja. White wines currently represent close to 8% of total Rioja sales, this has increased from 5% just five years ago.

From July 2017, it is now possible to produce single varietal wines from any of the permitted varieties including: Viura, Malvasía, Tempranillo Blanco, Garnacha Blanca, Maturana Blanca, Turruntés, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo.

5. Sparkling Wines

In June 2017, the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja announced that traditional method sparkling wines would be permitted to be produced in Rioja to complement the region’s range of still wines.

These sparkling wines will be called Espumosos de Calidad and will be released from 2019.

The requirements for the production of sparkling wines are:

• All red and white varieties are permitted for white or rosé sparkling wines.
• The alcohol content must be between 
11% and 13%.
• There must be a minimum ageing period of 15 months.
• For ‘Reserva’ this is 24 months.
• And for ‘Gran Añada’ this is 36 months.
• All sparkling wines from Rioja must undergo a double evaluation including a chemical 
and sensory test.
• They must be produced in the ‘traditional 
• The volume of wine obtained for each 100 kg of grapes must be 62%.
• The commercial labelling must include the 
words “Método tradicional” under the sweetness labelling of Brut (0–12 g/l), Extra Brut (0-6 g/l), and Brut Nature (0-3 g/l). This labelling will also appear in the guarantee seals on the back of the bottle.
• The colour intensity of rosés should be between 0.10 and 1.8 AU/cm, resulting from the sum of parameters A420 + A520 + A620.
• The maximum total sulphur dioxide is 140 mg/l.
• The maximum volatile acidity is 0.65 g/l.
• The minimum total acidity is 5.9 g/l.
• The pH must be between 2.8 and 3.3.

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