Grape varieties for red wines
The experience of grape growers and wine makers has resulted in a selection of those grape varieties that best adapt to the region’s climate and soils, while producing wine of the highest quality. This historical process has now been complemented by the innovative drive of the wine industry, always on top of market evolution and demands. This led to the approval of new grape varieties in 2007 for the first time since the Designation was created in 1925. The primary goal behind this is to achieve greater competitiveness in white wines and to bring diversity to wine production while maintaining the wines’ identity and differentiation.
The grape varieties that are currently authorised by the Regulations of the D. O. Ca. Rioja are:
Considered native to Rioja, it is the wine region’s most typical grape. It is the origin of the identity of its wines and one of the great grape varieties in the world. It occupies more than 75% of the region’s vineyards and it is very versatile from an oenological viewpoint. It is capable of producing wines that can withstand long ageing periods, with a good balance of alcohol content, colour and acidity, and an honest, smooth, fruity mouthfeel that turns velvety as it ages.
Regarding its agronomic performance, it sets well but is highly sensitive to pests and disease and not very resistant to drought or high temperatures. Its name comes from the Spanish “temprano” meaning “early” and it does in fact ripen quite early. There are varying degrees of similarity with the various varieties that are purportedly the same as Tempranillo de Rioja. This ranges from almost complete similarity in the case of Cencibel, Tinto de Madrid, Tinto del País and Tinto Fino to more distant resemblances such as Tinto de Toro and Ull de Llebre. Tempranillo is currently widely planted across Spain because of its proven quality. It is an authorised grape variety in no less than 28 designations of origin, of which 12 consider it as their main variety or one of the preferred varieties.
This grape variety native to Spain is the most extensively grown variety in the world . In Rioja, it complements the Tempranillo with its aromas and body. With good extract and alcohol content, its wines vary depending on environmental conditions (temperature) and tending practices (production). In warm areas, it produces the kind of wine that has given it its reputation as a rugged grape but in cool areas it produces very interesting, well-balanced wines, particularly rosés. Prone to coulure, this is nonetheless a hardy plant, able to withstand periods of drought, and also fairly resistant to pests and major vine diseases such as rust mites and powdery mildew; hence its popularity among growers. Synonyms found in ampelographic collections around the world include: Abundante, Alicante, Cannonaddu, Cannonaddu Nieddu, Cannonao, Cannonau Selvaggio, Canonazo, Carignane Rosso, Garnaccho Negro, Garnatxa País, Gironet, Granaccia, Granaxa, Grenache Rouge, Lladoner, Retagliad Nieddu, Rivesaltes, Rousillon Tinto, Rousillon, Tinto Aragonés, Tinto Navalcarnero, Uva di Spagna.
Graciano is an indigenous grape variety and its cultivation is very limited in other areas. Shown to be an excellent complement to Tempranillo in the ageing process, this grape has a promising future in Rioja, where its planted surface area has increased significantly in the last few years, although it has yet to reach pre-phylloxera figures. It requires clay-limestone soils and a cool climate. It is fairly resistant to mildew and powdery mildew, with low fertility rates and late maturing. It offers wines with a marked acidity and polyphenolic content, ideal for ageing, with a unique aroma that is much more intense than those of other varieties in Rioja. Synonyms found in ampelographic collections around the world include: Bastardo Nero, Bordelais, Cagnolale, Cagnovali Negro, Cagnulari, Cagnulari Bastardo, Cagnulari Sardo, Caldaredou Caldarello, Cargo Muol, Couthurier, Graciano Tinto, Gros negrette, Minustello, Morrastel, Tinta do Padre Antonio, Tinta Miuda, Tintilla, Xerez, Zinzillosa.
There is evidence that this grape variety has been grown in Rioja for several centuries, but today it barely covers 3% of the wine region’s vineyards. It is more productive than other red varieties, albeit particularly sensitive to powdery mildew and needs more heat summation to mature. Although short on flavours, it produces wines with abundant tannins, high acidity and stable colour, all of which makes it a good complement to Tempranillo for wines to be aged for long periods. In the rest of the world it is mainly known as Carignan Noir, given its French origin. Other synonyms include: Babonenc, Bois Dur, Boue Duro, Cagnolaro Tinto, Carignan Mouillan, Carignano, Cariñena, Catalan, Cencibel, Crujillon, Crusillo, Girarde, Legno duro, Manuelo Tinto, Mataro, Mazuelo, Mollard, Monestel, Plant de Ledenon, Roussillonen, Samso, Samso Crusillo, Sopatna Blau, Tinto Mazuela, Uva di Spagna.
It has small compact clusters and small berries. It is very sensitive to botrytis, with late budburst but early ripening. As for the wine parameters, it has high colour intensity and anthocyanin content, high acidity and medium alcohol content. Sensorially, it stands out for its purple colour, typical varietal aromas of green peppers with balsamic and spicy notes, a well-structured mouth with notable acidity and tartness and medium persistence. It is not grown anywhere else in the world, making it a very interesting grape to support the uniqueness, differentiation and diversity of Rioja wines.