Rioja Baja - Rioja Orientale
Rioja Orientale (Eastern Rioja) is a sub-region of the Rioja wine region in northern Spain. Known previously as Rioja Baja (i.e. lower in altitude), the name changed in 2018. Some producers in the region were keen to avoid any possible inference of quality – especially in comparison to Rioja Alta. This development may lead to the Oriental designation appearing more often on labels than was the case for the old one.
The sub-region forms the largest portion of the region, and accounts for 40 percent of its wine output. It extends southeast of the provincial capital, Logrono, to the small town of Alfaro, and is housed mostly within the La Rioja autonomous community, south of the Ebro River. The remainder lies north of the river, actually within Navarra.
Unlike its neighbours Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, the Rioja Oriental region has very dry and warm summers (temperatures of 35°C/95°F are not uncommon), a result of the influence of the Mediterranean Sea. The soils also differ significantly from those in its neighbours; the chalk content is minimal, with larger proportions of silt and alluvial components as well as ferrous-clay. Drought is also a real threat.
The low-altitude vineyards were once mostly planted with Garnacha vines, which were regarded as being best suited to the extreme conditions, producing wines high in alcohol but low in acidity and aroma profile. As these grapes routinely reached full ripeness, they were suitable for blending with the Tempranillo wines produced in Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. The aim was to add body rather than character to their cooler-climate wines. In the 1980s, however, many of these old Garnacha vines were pulled out in favour of the more-marketable Tempranillo, but now producers are realizing the benefits of Garnacha in Rioja wines and many are replanting the variety.
The flatter terrain of Rioja Oriental, along with its climatic conditions, makes it a less important wine region than Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa in terms of quality, despite its output.
The local wine industry is largely based on co-operatives. Many of the top Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa wineries have vineyards or long-term arrangements with growers in Rioja Oriental as insurance against bad vintages.