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September 11, 2023 4 Minutes

Discover the white grape varieties of DOCa Rioja

Since 2005, the Rioja Strategic Plan has set the promotion of a new white wine policy as one of the priorities for the development of the Designation of Origin. This initiative culminated in the inclusion of new white varieties in the Regulation and the authorisation of 2,500 new hectares for the exclusive cultivation of these white varieties, which began to bear fruit in 2013.

As a result, the area under white grape cultivation increased by 15% during the 2017 harvest, reaching a total of 6,058 hectares. At the same time, the wineries have introduced a varied and fresh range of high quality white wines to the market.

These are the white grape varieties recognised in Rioja:

1. Viura

It is the main white variety of the DOCa Rioja and represents about 70% of the total surface destined to white varieties in the region. It buds and ripens later than other white varieties and is usually harvested at the same time as the Tempranillo.

Generally speaking, it is a very aromatic variety, with aromas of green apple, almond and white flowers. Its wines are usually of medium acidity, which explains their special place in the gastronomy. They are young, fresh wines that can be easily combined with many dishes.

2. Malvasía

There are different Malvasía varieties in the world, but not all of them are synonymous with Rioja Malvasía, although they all agree that their ripe, reddish-yellow grapes produce very special white wines with a smooth and highly aromatic flavour.

It develops best on alluvial soils with a low nutrient content and a marked presence of silt in their composition. It produces clusters of considerable size, with grapes with resistant skins, but with a certain tendency to be vulnerable to fungal diseases.

Its primary aromas are of low intensity, which emphasises the depth and intensity of the secondary aromas.  It is aged in oak barrels, which gives it a rich texture and good body.

3. Garnacha Blanca        

This variety is the result of a mutation of the Garnacha Tinta, with which it shares similarities, producing wines that are alcoholic and rich in extracts, but lacking in aroma and acidity. It can be used in blends with other white varieties or as a single variety.

Cultivated in cool areas and very resistant to drought, Garnacha Blanca buds a little later than Garnacha Tinta, producing wines with floral, fruity and herbaceous notes.

4. Tempranillo Blanco 

It is a unique and autochthonous Rioja variety, since it is the result of a natural genetic mutation in a single shoot of a Tempranillo Tinto vine found in 1988 in an old vineyard in Murillo del Río Leza, La Rioja. This variety does not exist anywhere else in the world.

The clusters are medium sized and loose, with medium sized, slightly flattened grapes. Its aroma is intense and very distinctive, with fruity notes of banana, citrus and tropical fruits, as well as floral and terpenic notes. It sets late and ripens early.

5. Maturana Blanca          

The Maturana Blanca is the oldest grape variety in the Rioja region, mentioned in 1622. It is characterised by small clusters and small elliptical berries. Although it grows early at all stages, it is highly susceptible to botrytis.

It has a low pH and high acidity, with high tartaric acid and low potassium to compensate for the high alcohol content. The wines are greenish yellow in colour, with aromas of apple, banana and citrus fruit, as well as herbaceous notes. On the palate, they are light and balanced, with pronounced acidity and a soft, persistent bitterness.

6. Turruntés

It is often confused with the Galician variety Torrontés, to which it is not related and has nothing to do with the variety grown in Argentina. According to DNA analysis, the only similar variety is Albillo Mayor, which is grown in Castilla y León.

This is one of the least cultivated varieties in the DOCa Rioja, with less than 10 hectares. Its grapes are medium sized and compact, with medium-sized berries that, when ripe, take on a golden colour with dark spots. It produces wines with a low alcohol content and high acidity, with a straw-yellow colour, greenish reflections and fruity aromas with a predominance of apple.

7. Chardonnay

Originally from Burgundy, this is a very versatile white grape that can be found all over the world.

It is a low yielding variety that produces wines of great finesse and aromatic intensity, yellow in colour with greenish reflections. When aged, it has notes of vanilla, honey and butter.

8. Sauvignon Blanc

Originally from the Loire region, Sauvignon Blanc has spread all over the world and has become very popular. These wines are characterised by their intense herbaceous, vegetable (green pepper, asparagus), citrus and tropical aromas. Like other varieties, it behaves differently depending on the climate in which it is grown.

Although it is not a very widespread variety in Rioja, we can find examples of aromatic monovarietals and interesting blends, mainly with Viura.

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