The region in North East Spain whose red wines have become hugely revered in the UK (accounting for around 40% of the market for Spanish wine). Even though it is now no longer the only high profile wine region in Spain it is still perhaps the best known.
Rioja is traditionally known for its use of American Oak in the ageing of the wines. Nowadays with many winemakers using oak of different origin (particularly French, but also Slovenian in one or two cases) the style of Rioja can vary. This style is further dependent on the length of time the wine spends in barrel (increasing as you go from Crianza through to Reserva, and then Gran Reserva) and where within the region the grapes come from. Rioja Baja for example is known for producing wines that are fuller in body, with Rioja Alta producing the finest wines (Rioja Alavesa being the third area). The modern trend in Rioja is to age the wines less in oak and for them to be more fruit driven, and perhaps richer.
The most significant red grape varieties that make up Rioja are Tempranillo (adding flavour e.g. strawberry and tobacco) and Garnacha (adding weight), though these can be joined in a ‘cameo’ role by Mazuelo and Graciano.
Rioja also produces some white wine, with one or two being of very high quality and well worth trying! These are largely made up of Viura, but can include Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia, and a degree of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Verdejo in the blend. Most white Rioja is either clean and fresh, or very oaky and rich, in style.
In short Rioja is a wonderful region that frequently produces red wines of elegance and charm that can rank amongst the finest wines in the world.