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La Rioja is one of Argentina’s most important wine regions, known for its crisp, aromatic Torrontes white wines. In addition, the region is known for wines made from Bonarda, Syrah and Malbec varietals. La Rioja is located in western Argentina, north of both Mendoza and San Juan.
It is the region’s location, nestled in the foothills of the Andes, that gives its wines such distinctive character. The region has a mountainous terroir and receives relatively little rainfall each year. In fact, the average annual rainfall in La Rioja is just 5 inches per year.
Moreover, in terms of latitude, La Rioja is located nearer the equator than just about any wine region in the world. The region’s relatively high altitude, though, helps to moderate some of the hottest temperatures during the summer month.
While La Rioja may not be as well known as the neighboring wine regions of San Juan and Mendoza, it has a much longer history as a wine-producing area. The first grapes were planted in La Rioja back in the 16th century by Spanish missionaries (who happened to be from Rioja in Spain). As a result, La Rioja often refers to itself as the first Argentine wine region.
In terms of the size of its wine industry, La Rioja still trails Mendoza and San Juan. For example, even though there are nearly 20,000 acres of vineyards in La Rioja, that figure is just a fraction of what you would find in San Juan (120,000 acres) or Mendoza (390,000 acres).
As might be expected, there has always been some confusion about the difference between La Rioja in Argentina and Rioja wines from Spain. In 2011, La Rioja won a major international court case enabling it to designate its wines as “La Rioja Argentina.” Since La Rioja’s most famous wines are white, and Rioja’s most famous wines are red, the court upheld the rights of Argentina’s La Rioja wine region.
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