Wines from Spain were under the spotlight early last month as a co-theme region at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. It was a chance to showcase old vintages and the new labels, as well as a combination of the two. Many growers and winemakers are forging new paths while revitalizing old traditions. They’re creating something fresh and different. Enter: the Rioja Wine Renaissance trade seminar.

Let’s Be Straight – Nothing is New in Rioja

Rioja Renaissance seminar at VIWF 2018

In so many facets of our lives, it seems we’re constantly on the look out for new, original and modern ideas. But guys, that’s just not the case in so many areas of the wine industry. Many regions, including Rioja, are steeped in tradition and are forced to abide by region-specific laws. So what are they doing to be ‘on-trend’? They’re taking something old and making it new again.

The #1 growing grape in Rioja is Tempranillo which occupies around 75% of the vineyards. That’s not going to change. However, growers and producers are turning to other indigenous grapes, that are currently shining, in order to help evolve the region’s style. They’re not looking for a new wave, they’re looking to revisit and revitalize grapes like Mazuelo, Graciano and Garnacha. Rioja has the advantage of tradition and experience in their back pocket. With strict designation laws and generations of experience, they’ve managed to cultivate a distinct style and know what works. However, they have vision and an adventurous sense of discovery to take Rioja to new heights without ever forgetting how they got to where they are today.

Wines poured at the Rioja Renaissance seminar at VIWF 2018

Spanish Bubble, But It’s Not Cava

The second piece of takeaway info from the seminar is pretty exciting. Growers and producers in Rioja have been working tirelessly for years, battling red tape and legal entities, to create their own style of bubbly. So now you’re going to say, ‘but doesn’t Spain already have Cava?’ And you’re right, they do. However, the majority of Cava comes from the Penedès region in Catalonia (north eastern Spain). While the producers in Rioja are legally allowed to make Cava (using grapes such as Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo), they want to use their own native grapes and have it certified under the Rioja D.O. (Designation of Origin). 

The first authorized vintage for D.O. Rioja Sparkling Wine is 2017 which means it’s still in the cellars. It’ll be a handful years before it’s released in Spain and a few more after that before it makes its way to Canada for purchase. I don’t want to under or over sell this – but it’s pretty exciting!

So is Rioja actually in a Renaissance?

By description, renaissance means rebirth or reawakening. It means taking old techniques and traditions and using them in fresh ways to find a new audience. So yes, I’d say it’s pretty safe to say we’re witnessing some pretty exciting changes and vast opportunity on the horizon with Rioja. 

The next time you’re picking up a bottle of wine, wander through the Spanish section and take note of what you see, and drink with special care and attention. You’ll notice in the years to come how Rioja wine will evolve and how it fits among the best on the world’s wine stage.

The wine lineup at the Rioja Renaissance seminar at VIWF 2018