we hiked through the Rioja Alta, which is know for the cultivation of its grapes. around Nájera, vines of garnacha and tempranillo grapes stretch to the horizon beside the Camino. earliest evidence of grape cultivation in Rioja dates from 873 and a donation of wine from a monastery. the king of Navarra and Aragon gave the first legal recognition of Rioja wine in 1102 and protection of its quality remained important throughout the centuries. in 1635, the mayor of Logroño banned carts from passing too closely to wine cellars for fear that vibrations would disturb the quality of the product; fifteen years later the first document protecting the quality of Rioja wines was drawn up. Rioja was the first region to receive the Denominación de Origen Calificada of Spain — marking it for origin and quality.
we saw a fair few old vines (which can produce highly concentrated grapes but few per vine each year), but mostly younger ones. Rioja wines fall into one of four categories, based on age — Rioja (the youngest, less than a year in oak barrels); crianza (by far our preferred variety, aged for at least two years with at least one in oak barrels); reserva (aged for at least three years, with one or more in oak barrels); and gran reserva (aged at least two years in oak and three in bottles). the vines were just starting to green up as we walked through the vineyards; in the fall the garnacha vines turn red, the tempranillo yellow. I imagine it’s quite something to see.