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Ultimate Guide to the La Rioja Wine Region

Spain’s La Rioja wine region, which is named for two rivers, delivers many fine wines. See our collection of wine pictures
iStockphoto/Eric Naud

­Spain has a rich history of crusaders, bullfights and ships filled with Spanish gold. But Spain is also home to one of th­e oldest and most well respected wine regions in the world: La Rioja. Named for two rivers and nestled in northern Spain, this region is tiny yet it delivers many fine wines.­

A large number of wine-producing countries use an Appellation of Origin, which is basically a coded name that tells you exactly where your wine comes from. Regions that have appellations are subject to strict regulations by their governing parties to ensure that the wine has been grown, harvested and produced with the highest quality standards. Spain's appellations include:

  • Denominación de Pago (DO de Pago)
  • Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa/DOQ; Denominació d'Origen Qualificada in Catalan)
  • Denominación de Origen (DO; Denominació d'Origen in Catalan)
  • Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada (VCPRD)
  • Vinos de la Tierra (VdlT)
  • Vino de Mesa [source: Bestline International Inc]

­La Rioja's designation is Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) [source: Vibrant Rioja]. The region received the very first DO in 1925. Then the ­label was updated to DOCa in 1991 [source: Wines from Spain]. Wines with this label are considered top quality.

So how did the smallest region in Spain become such a world-famous wine producer? If you guessed that the Romans were involved, you're right. But the story of La Rioja goes well beyond the Roman Empire. In this article, you'll discover the history and culture of the region, the agriculture and the famous Spanish wines of La Rioja.

Let's begin by exploring the history of La Rioja's first vines and the cultural flavors that have contributed to the region's savored wines.