Sparkling Rioja’s premium opportunity – analysis

close up of sparkling wine being pouring into a glass

The region might be famous for its still reds, but sparkling white and rosé Rioja is beginning to appear on the scene, following some rule changes. Lucy Britner reports from Prowein.  

The first Rioja Quality Sparkling Wines started appearing in 2020, after a 2017 decision by the control board started to bear fruit.

The wines, known as Espumoso de Calidad de Rioja, came about after the DOCa adapted regulations to “take advantage of a business opportunity and include new types of wine: quality white and rosé sparkling wines”.

The category is still small, and the regulations allow for all Rioja grape varieties to be used, though rosés have to use at least 25% reds. The ageing criteria for generic wines is 15 months on the lees, while Reserva is 24 months and Gran Anada is 36 months.

Spain specialist Sarah Jane Evans MW presented four wines at Prowein, as she outlined the opportunities for sparkling Rioja. Though two of them centred around Viura, she said so far, there doesn’t seem to be a champion sparkling grape for Rioja.

The wines on show included Urbina (100% Viura), Vivanco (45% Maturana Blanca, 30% Tempranillo Blanco, 15% Viura and 10% Chardonnay), Conde Valdemar (100% Viura) and Lumen (100% Garnacha Tinta). Lumen is from Cava giant Codorniu’s Bodega Bilbaínas and when it comes to the opportunity for sparkling Rioja, Evans acknowledged that the country already has a famous sparkling wine in Cava.

But she said sparkling Rioja is separate from Cava and has “a really good opportunity to make a statement – and its already making a statement. There are some very established wineries that are making traditional method sparkling wines”.

She said white wines are less than 10% of the market in Rioja and “the opportunity to add a sparkling is a really nice addition for one of the world’s great wine regions - it gives producers a complete offer". 

Evans added that Cava is doing a lot of work to upgrade its categories and communication around those categories.

“But if you look at a wine list, it’s possible that a sommelier is going to have a cava, a classic Penedes and others. As consumers, we’re going to be completely overwhelmed. So, it could be that the brand name of a Rioja company, combined with the fact they have a sparkling wine, may well be a new way of getting into the marketplace. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy but it feels very natural for producers to make sparkling wines.”

However, Evans was less keen on the term ‘espumoso’, which she felt could be associated with cheaper sparkling production methods. She said the premium nature of the new category would benefit more from being described as ‘traditional method’ sparkling wine.   

Possibly owing to the pandemic and Brexit, sparkling Rioja doesn't seem to have made many inroads in the UK market. But Evans said that the quality is there, as she emphasised the need to keep prices in the premium and above bracket. 

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