July 30, 2019 marks the beginning of a new era in the DOCa Rioja.
The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture approved the regulations proposed by Rioja wineries and grape growers that designate 84 vineyards covering 154 hectares as “Viñedos Singulares” (singular vineyards).
43 vineyards are in Rioja Alavesa, 31 in Rioja Alta and 10 in Rioja Oriental.
The process to guarantee the traceability of the grapes from these vineyards through vinification, barrel and bottle aging was approved internally by the Rioja Regulatory Council starting with the 2017 vintage but final Agriculture Ministry approval was required. As of July 30, wines made from these grapes can carry a specific guarantee label if they receive an “excellent” rating from a tasting panel both immediately after vinification and before the wine is released from the winery, and to state on the front label that the wine comes from a singular vineyard.
How does a vineyard become “singular”? The most important requirements are:
- The vineyard must be at least 35 years old;
- A report must show that it has agro-geological conditions differentiating it from others in the area;
- Maximum yields must be no higher than 5000 kg/ha for red grapes and 6922 kg/ha for whites (23% lower than those required for other Rioja grapes)
- A maximum of 65 liters of wine can be produced for every 100 kg of grapes (for ‘regular’ Rioja, the allowed ratio is 72% and for certain vintages up to 75%);
- No machine picking is allowed;
- The grapes must be vinified, and the wine aged, stored and shipped from the same winery;
- No contract bottling is allowed.
The approval of singular vineyards in Rioja culminates a process of recognition of wines from specific areas in our region. Zone wines (from the Alavesa, Alta and Oriental) have been a possibility since the 1990s. More recent has been the approval of village wines.
(Credit: Tom Perry)
According to the 2018 annual report of the Regulatory Council there are more than 114,026 individual plots of vineyards in Rioja. 15,069 hectares of vineyards were planted before 1985. Wineries have been marketing wines coming from single vineyards for at least ten years without official recognition. However, because of the rigorous certification process, wines from singular vineyards are a big step beyond the idea of a single vineyard wine.
As I mentioned in a previous article, (https://insiderioja.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/rioja-finally-comes-to-grips-with-single-estates/) both single vineyard wines and wines from singular vineyards are essential for the preservation of old vines in Rioja. Many growers pulled up their old vines because they weren’t able to find a buyer at a worthwhile price. It took the efforts of a group of pioneering young winemakers (http://www.greatwinecapitals.com/Let%27s-Rioja-%27n%27-Roll) to give well-deserved recognition to these grapes and the wines they made and gave other owners of old vineyard a reason to hang on to them.
Wines from singular vineyards can be ´generic’, crianza, reserva or gran reserva.
The 1999 Spanish wine law created a quality pyramid structure for Spanish wines, with table wines at the base and single vineyard wines at the top. The Ministry of Agriculture’s idea was:
(Credit: Tom Perry)
At the time, the Rioja Regulatory Council rejected the idea of creating a single vineyard wine category for Rioja, arguing (correctly in my opinion), that a single vineyard wine wasn’t intrinsically of higher quality than a Rioja blend, a single varietal, a crianza, reserva or a gran reserva. The Council worked on its own singular vineyard concept for several years until wineries and growers agreed on the terms.
Now that the Ministry has approved the certification process, consumers can look forward to tasting the first Riojas made from singular vineyards. Inside Rioja will do our best to let you know when they are released and where you can buy them.