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Rioja’s prime single vineyards, where terroir is King

14 Feb 2022
Club Oenologique

For years, Rioja has relied on an outdated, indiscriminate hierarchy that values ageing above all else. Today, the emphasis is on terroir – so, which are Rioja’s finest single vineyards, asks Simon Field MW


At the top end, Rioja should not be about ageing, or oak, or anything extraneous to the terroir itself, says CVNE’s Victor Urrutia. If it thereby loses ‘identity’, so be it.

Victor Urrutia, who runs CVNE, makes the point that despite the emphasis on ageing above all, vintage variation is an increasingly discernible and fundamental factor in the ascent of the category. One would always select a Rioja from 2004 over 2003, for example. ‘The Spanish,’ he says, ‘are less keen on the rigours of classification than the French. We were the first to show the door to Napoleon,’ he jokes. And yet in essence he is supportive of the principle of further taxonomy of single vineyards. CVNE’s Contino plot, along with Murrieta’s Ygay, is probably the longest-standing and best-known such site in Spain, its terroir following the serpentine flows of the Ebro all the way into modern barrels. French oak, indeed, is favoured over its American cousin, in the name of purity of expression, providing another example where the scaffolding of tradition is gradually being dismantled. Rioja at the top, according to Urrutia, should not be about ageing or about American oak or about anything extraneous to the terroir itself. If it thereby loses ‘identity’ and a commercially useful calling card, so be it, say some. Others are not so sure.

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