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Our Rioja oenology

This section presents a few basic notions about the characteristics of wine in La Rioja and our wine-making process. We hope that you will find this information useful, and that it will help to awaken your interest in our region and our wines, which satisfy the eyes and the palate.

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Denomination of Origin (D.O.)

Wines from Rioja are backed by the oldest Denomination of Origin in Spain, officially recognised in 1926. In 1991, we are proud to have the highest category, Calificada (Qualified), unique in Spain. The especially strict regulations of this quality system determine the limits of the production area, the grape variety permitted, maximum production, techniques of elaboration and finishing, etc. The body responsible for enforcing these regulations for the protection of the singularity and quality of the wines from Rioja is called "Consejo Regulador" (Regulating Committee). It is made up of representatives from grape growers, wineries and the Government.

From production to sale, the Consejo Regular maintains a strict and effective control system, with respect to both quantity and quality of the wines protected. In this aspect, all the wines from Rioja must undergo chemical and organoleptic testing to determine if the wine produced deserves the Qualified Designation of Origin.

This control continues during the entire process of ripening and ageing, right up to the point when the wine is ready to be sold. That is when the Consejo Regulador provides the wineries with the corresponding labels or seals that guarantee the vintage and ageing of the wines.

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Growth cycle of the vine

The yearly life cycle of the grape vine covers several phases. These are presented below, along with the jobs the grape growers must perform, indicating approximately the months in which they must be carried out.

In January, the grape vine is fully in its resting stage, which begins in November and lasts until March. That is the moment when the rise in temperature initiates the growth process again. This is the perfect moment for pruning. This is a precise activity; the grape grower removes inefficient shoots from the previous season and sets, for the new cycle, the shape and the productivity desired for the vine.

The first sign that vine activity is beginning is the "weeping": the transport system of the vine is reactivated and it begins to absorb nutrition from the soil. This reaches the end of the branches in such a way that the pruned ends of the vine, still fresh and unscarred, leak a transparent liquid substance. This phenomenon lasts about three weeks. On rare occasions, the liquid becomes altered. When this happens, it acquires a specific reddish tone which is known as vine "bleeding" among the grape growers.

When the temperature climbs to about 10ºC, sprouting begins. First, the buds swell, separating from the scales that protect them. Next, the first small leaves appear (foliation).

Blooming starts towards the end of this month. The flower opens, the funnel drops off and pollination takes place. Sometimes, because it's too cold or too humid, or due to abnormal vigour, the flower unit is not effectively pollinated. This produces bunches with few grape seeds. This phenomenon is known as "setting failure". The beginning of grape formation following pollination is commonly known as "setting". These initial fruits, very tiny, making up the cluster are deep green and quite sour. They are called unripe berries, and this condition lasts until July. From these unripened berries, a drink known as "verjus" (sour wine or cider) was prepared in the Middle Ages. This was before lemons were introduced in Europe, so "verjus" was used as an acidifier ... and it has now become a delicatessen product.

Once the month of July arrives, the vine reaches its physiological maturity. At this moment, it could reproduce itself, but the fruit is still a long way from the ripe grape the grower needs. However, the process that will end with harvesting has begun. *In July, "fruit ripening" is produced, the phase in which the grapes begin to take on their colour. The grapes now lose their green colour, the white varieties turning yellowish and the red, rosy. Until this moment, it has been impossible to tell the white and red grape clusters apart. In addition, at this time the grape seed begins to lose acidity and to accumulate sugar.

The high level of acidity is completely replaced by sugar during the ripening process, the grape skin becomes progressively softer and red grapes acquire an intense colour. This is the ripening, which is difficult to predict and concludes with the harvest.

During this month, harvesting normally takes place. That is, the grape bunches are cut off to commence the wine-making process. The grape grower makes the judgement as to when to begin harvesting, depending on the type of wine desired. If it starts early, fresh and green wines are the result; if it is delayed, wines of stronger alcohol content and colour can be produced.

Even before the harvest, the vine begins to prepare itself for the winter rest period. The shoots harden, the sap accumulates in the stalks and the leaves turn a tobacco colour and fall off. Then, in March, the vine "weeps" once again after its pruning, and a new cycle begins.

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Grape varieties

Red varieties: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano

This grape produces a must that is balanced in sugar content, colour and acidity (although the degree of acidity is sometimes low). The genuine bouquet of the wines obtained from this grape variety gives young wines an interesting note that takes on a velvety character when aged. It is considered the preferred variety, and has been the one planted over the largest area in this D.O. region.

The name comes from how early it ripens ("temprano" is "early" in Spanish). In Rioja wines, it is appreciated for its rich alcohol content, its ruby colour and its fine taste.

High quality rosé and red wines are obtained from this grape. The latter are wines of high alcohol content, deep colour and a strong body. This grape variety has a long tradition and is highly resistant to drought.

The must from these grapes is characterized by its full colour and acidity, although it is a bit strong and without an abundant bouquet. They are wines that are rich in tannins and full-bodied on the palate.
This variety cannot ripen adequately in cold areas, which is why the mild climate of La Rioja is especially beneficial for mazuelo grapes.

These grapes produce a must with a characteristic bright red colour, plus a significant degree of acidity, which gives these wines a pronounced bouquet. The colouring material of this grape is strong but not very stable. It quickly evolves from red to the brownish tones of old wine.

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White varieties: Viura, Malvasía and Garnacha Blanca

The must from these grapes is acid yet pleasant, with a very characteristic taste. Its wine is considered especially appropriate for ageing in wood, which is the traditional way of making white wine from Rioja.

This grape variety can't withstand low temperatures, and develops best in clayey and sandy soil in sunny areas.

This white grape variety is also known as Blanquirroja . It yields wines with a characteristic fruity aroma and a golden tone that often takes on a woodsy shade during ageing. These wines also tend to become cloudy once bottled.

Mixed with red grapes in a low proportion (around 10%), they add greater smoothness and aroma to red wines.

This is an ancient variety of grape with properties similar to those of Garnacha Tinta. Its must has low acidity and high alcohol content; it is sweet, with an agreeable taste.

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bodegas altona, S.L.

c/ Sobrevilla, 21

26311 Cordovín (La Rioja)

Tel./fax +34 941 367 369




A fresh young wine produced from choice grapes of the Tempranillo variety ...

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A very young wine bottled after brief ageing in oak barrels ...

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