Location and size
La Rioja (ree-oh-haa) is located in North Central Spain, just an hour’s drive south of Bilbao.
It is Spain’s second smallest region (5,000 km2) and its most prestigious wine area. The total population is 316,000 residents.
La Rioja is in the Ebro River Valley. The river actually works as a natural border with the provinces of Basque Country and Navarra to the north. It served as a frontier between kingdoms over the centuries.
"La Rioja" or "Rioja"
First things first.
We’d like to point out that “La Rioja” and “Rioja” are two different things: one is the province and the other is the wine appellation.
If you compare the DOCa Rioja map with the map of the province, you’ll see that the wine producing area corresponds to the half-north part of the province.
Only the northern part of the La Rioja region is suitable for growing grapes though, as the southern part is very mountanous and too cold, and thus the grapes wouldn’t ripe evenly -the further you drive to the south, the higher in altitude you climb.
Slide the mouse to see the difference
La Rioja province
La Rioja (with article La) refers to the province and it’s the administrative region. The La Rioja province is one of the 17 autonomous communities Spain is divided into. The Ebro River flows from northwest to southeast. One of it’s 7 tributaries -Oja river- gives name to the region (the Spanish for river is río: Río Oja = Rioja)
The neighbouring provinces are the Basque Country and Navarra to the north, Navarra and Zaragoza to the east, Castilla y León to the south and west.
Rioja (with no article) refers to the wine appellation.
Rioja is Spain’s premier wine region and the oldest Designation of Origin in Spain (1925).
It was also the first Designation of Origin in Spain to earn Calificada status (1991), which is the highest within the Spanish wine classification system.
Therefore Rioja wines belong to the Denominación de Origen Calificada, aka DOC Rioja or DOCa Rioja. So when wine specialists talk about Rioja they refer to the DOCa Rioja.
This top DOCa label means the highest quality standards from vine to bottle. Actually they are the strictest regulations of any wine region in the world.