Rioja Alavesa: Quick Guide


Rioja Alavesa is the smallest of Rioja’s 3 wine-producing regions. Its primary variety is Tempranillo. Rioja Alavesa has 21% of Rioja vineyards.

Where Is Rioja Alavesa?

rioja alavesa - where's rioja alavesa inforgraphic map with arrows

Rioja Alavesa sits in the northernmost part of the Rioja DOCa, but isn’t actually part of La Rioja. Instead, Rioja Alavea is part of Pais Vasco.

Rioja Alavesa Geography

The Cantabrian mountains border Rioja Alavesa to the north and the foothills of the Sierra de Toloño range of the Sierra de Cantabria protect the vineyards from northern maritime influences.

Rioja Alavesa’s southern border is actually the Ebro River which flows south towards the Mediterranean Sea.

Rioja Alavesa Growing Conditions

rioja alavesa attribute - shaury nash
Rioja Alavesa Attribute: Shaury Nash

Rioja Alavesa vineyards sit at some of the highest elevations in Rioja. Often between 400-800 meters (1300-2600 ft). Vineyards are mostly small plots in the valleys and on terraces. The region receives about 500 mm/20 inches of rain annually, encouraging the vines to reach deep for water.

Helpful Tip: Rioja’s divided into three regions: Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta (most historic), and Rioja Oriental (formerly Rioja Baja). The regions get progressively warmer in this order.

The soils in Rioja Alavesa are chalky (calcareous) clay, with a high limestone content, giving the grapes concentrated flavors.

Rioja Alavesa Grapes and Wine

Rioja Alavesa’s main grape is Tempranillo, which makes sense given the higher altitude and cooler climate than other Rioja growing regions. There are small quantities of Grenache/Garnacha and Graciano at the lower, warmer elevations. Tempranillo from Rioja Alavesa’s prized for its long aging potential.

Famous Rioja Alavesa Producers

  • Marqués de Riscal: One of the oldest wineries in Rioja, Marqués de Riscal is famous for its pioneering spirit. They are known for their traditional wines as well as the iconic Frank Gehry-designed hotel at their winery.
  • Bodegas Luis Cañas: This family-owned winery is known for its traditional Rioja wines, including both young and aged Tempranillo wines.
  • Bodegas Baigorri: This modern and innovative winery focuses on producing high-quality wines using state-of-the-art technology. They are known for their commitment to sustainability.

Here’s a great video on Marqués de Riscal:

YouTube player

Helpful Tip: Rioja wines are blends of grapes from different regions, like Rioja Alavesa, within Rioja. If you’re looking for a wine from a specific place, look for Single Vineyard, or “Vinedo Singular”, or Village Wines, or “Vino de Municipo”. These wines will carry the character of place.

Thirsty for More?

Did you know Rioja wines have different label colors depending on their wine styles? Check out Rioja label colors here.

There are many different aging categories and wine styles for Rioja wines. Here’s a quick guide to Rioja wine taste.

Finally, I’m a big fan of all-things Spanish wine. Here’s a list of other Spanish red wines you should be drinking.

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