The Lighter Side of Rioja

Rioja is one of the world's most famous and beloved wine regions, particularly for its reds based on the Tempranillo grape. But what about its other wines? Yes, there are white (blanco) and rosé (rosado) wines in Rioja, too! And they are worth your attention. Red Rioja, or Rioja Rosso, steals the show in this northern Spanish region, accounting for about 90% of its total wine, but as the temperatures rise it's time to get outside and open some Rioja Blanco or Rosado. (While social distancing, of course!)

Let's explore what makes these wines special and how to pair them with food!

What's in the glass?

Rioja Blanco is a minimum of 51% Viura, a white variety native to Spain. While it might sound unfamiliar, you've probably had it many times before. In Catalonia, it goes by the name Macabeo and plays an important role in everyone's favorite Spanish sparking wine: Cava! Alongside Viura, white Rioja can include Tempranillo Blanco, Malvasia, Maturana Blanca, Turruntés de Rioja, Garnacha Blanca, and no more than 49% Chardonnay, Verdejo, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Rioja Rosado is typically Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Viura. However, the rules are a little more complicated than that. It must be at least 25% red varieties (Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Graciano, Mazuelo, or Maturana Tinta) and the remainder can be white varieties. Since the 2018 classification changes, winemakers can now make rosado wines in lighter styles more similar to Provence. 

Like red Rioja, both white and rosé classifications depend on aging requirements. From freshest to boldest: Young/Joven, Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva. 

Time to taste!

Across the board, the flavor profile of any Rioja wine greatly depends on its aging regimen. In general though, young white Riojas are lighter wines with notes of citrus and melon alongside herbs, white flowers, and sea spray. Reserva and Gran Reserva whites have more tropical notes with accents of nuts and honey thanks to oxidation.

Check out CVNE 2019 Monopole Rioja Blanco for a taste of a youthful white Rioja made of 100% Viura. Aged in stainless steel vats, the 2019 vintage is full of super crunchy apples, both yellow and green, and Viura's signature floral undercurrent. Pair with grilled shrimp tacos, lemon chicken, or chopped salad with chickpeas. Or if you're feeling very ambitious, make seafood or vegetarian paella! You can purchase this on for $14.

Rosado wines have even more variation because they can be done in the newer, lighter style, or the most robust, traditional style, plus the various aging options. Traditional versions are robust with ripe cherry and strawberry flavors. You can spot them by their dark pink color!

For a modern example, try CVNE 2019 Viña Real Rosado made of 30% Tempranillo and Garnacha, and 70% Viura, all of which were vinified together. That big dose of white Viura creates an elegant rosé with pronounced floral notes. Ripe strawberry, juicy peach, and sweet honeydew melon join the party, too! I recommend pairing this with gyros with tzatziki, salade Niçoise, or Manchego cheese and olives. You can purchase it on for $17.

Craving more Spanish wines? Check out Sherry next!


Disclaimers: I'm a Brand Ambassador, which means I may earn a percentage from sales generated by my custom links. Wines featured in this post were samples from Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE). Please refer to my full sample and review policy