• The 2012 vintage was marked by drought, producing high-quality wines, in line with the previous two vintages.
• Strict wine approval requirements uphold Rioja's role as quality benchmark.
The Control Board has given the 2012 Rioja vintage the official rating of 'VERY GOOD' after a strict assessment process involving testing and tasting 3,788 samples taken by Control Board technicians from the 253.84 million litres of wine made by Rioja wineries. The global rating reflects the heterogeneous nature of the vintage. The drought affected both grape volume and grape quality in some vineyards but also resulted in a significant quantity of wine of extremely high quality, in line with the wines of the two previous vintages, both rated 'excellent'.
The special condition of "Calificada" enjoyed by the Rioja Designation of Origin requires that all wines made be subjected to exhaustive tests. Each tank of wine in each winery is sampled, providing highly reliable figures to base the final vintage rating, which is issued by the Rioja Control Board. This final rating is obtained through statistical calculations to ensure it is totally objective. The requirements to pass the approval process have become increasingly stricter in recent years, with the inclusion of more demanding quality standards, thereby ensuring Rioja's continuance as a market benchmark.
The 2011 Vintage approval and rating process began in November. Samples were taken by Control Board overseers in all the wineries that make wine. Samples were taken from batches of no more than 100,000 litres. The samples were then analysed at the laboratories of one of the DO's three Oenological Research Stations and assessed by a tasting committee consisting of three professional wine tasters. These belong to the Control Board's external tasting panel, consisting of over one hundred experts. The procedures used for sensory assessment are strictly regulated and the anonymity and confidentiality of all samples tasted are strictly maintained.
A total of 3,788 samples of the 2012 vintage were submitted. Each sample had to pass rigorous analytical and sensory tests before earning the right to be protected by the Designation of Origin. 244.59 million litres were ultimately approved (12.57 white, 12.70 rosé and 219.32 red). The rest of the 252.17 million litres submitted for approval were rejected, the most part (6.47 million litres) due to excess production. Only 36 samples failed analytical or sensory tests, which is indicative of the high technical level of vinifications.
Healthy grapes and professionalism —decisive factors
After a growing cycle beset by drought, the late September rains had a significant impact, with a very positive effect on ripening, improving final berry balance and raising hopes about final production figures for a large part of Rioja vineyards. Most of the harvested grapes were in excellent health with a great balance between alcohol content and polyphenols, leading to wines of superb quality, with good polyphenolic structure , particularly suited for ageing in barrels and laying down for a long time.
Another reason behind the positive outcome of the 2012 vintage was the professionalism of growers and wineries in scheduling the harvest, given the uneven ripening found among different plots, which required selective harvesting to ensure the best quality was obtained from each vineyard.
The total production volume of the 2012 harvest in Rioja came to 354.9 million kg of grapes —one of the lowest yields per hectare of the last two decades (5,710 kg/ha) and a significant drop compared to the 387 million kg harvested the previous year. The 62,154 hectares of vineyards in production in Rioja in the 2012 harvest consisted of 58,389 hectares of red grape vines —which yielded 331 million kg of grapes— and 3,765 hectares of white grape vines —producing 23,8 million kg. In the end, D.O. protected production came to 351.5 million kg of grapes, as 3.4 million kg were rejected because they surpassed production limits. The grapes produced a total of 253.84 million litres of wine.
DEVELOPMENT OF ANALYTICAL RATING PARAMETERS FOR RED WINES 2001/2012
PARAMETERS 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Alcohol content (% Vol.) 13.26 13.28 13.28 13.49 13.30 13.60 13.37 13.27 13.80 13.75 14.19 13,42
Total Acidity - tartaric (g/l) 5.13 5.42 4.99 5.79 5.13 5.23 5.33 5.34 5.06 5.14 5.14 4,94
pH 3.68 3.70 3.68 3.61 3.66 3.71 3.63 3.70 3.72 3.72 3.74 3,77
Volatile acidity - acetic (g/l) 0.47 0.51 0.50 0.43 0.42 0.49 0.39 0.42 0.47 0.43 0.49 0,44
Total SO2 (mg/l) 45.48 44.83 54.08 43’87 39.85 47.93 40.14 40.49 43.86 40.51 45.52 46,92
Colour Index (A420 + A520 +A620) 9.80 9.38 7.34 10.14 12.38 10.42 11.81 11.60 11.33 12.52 13.39 11,96
Total Polyphenol Index (TPI) 50.63 52.78 50.61 55.46 58.70 56.91 55.89 56.74 59.71 59.62 64.14 63,81
DEVELOPMENT OF THE 2012 GROWING CYCLE
In general, Rioja's vineyards showed good canopy growth and health throughout the growing season.
Phenological development was normal in terms of dates compared to the average of the last few years. Although fertility rates were lower than those of the last two seasons, they were still within normal values for the grape varieties of the D.O.Ca. Rioja.
The continuing drought that has affected the Region in the past two years curtailed the production of part of those vineyards located in drylands.
The Control Board Technical Service closely monitors the growing season. In late August grape ripening was normal, with average values for hat time of the year.
A significant aspect of the 2012 campaign was uneven ripening across vineyards within the same municipality, due to the specific location and characteristics of each plot.
This requires selective harvesting to ensure the highest quality can be obtained from each vineyard. The grapes are picked at their peak ripeness —i.e., when they attain the best possible balance between all their components.
The first grapes to be picked in the Wine Region were collected on 21 and 24 August. They were white Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from the municipalities of Galilea and Ausejo, respectively. Both white grape varieties —admitted by the Designation in 2007— have shorter growing cycles than traditional Rioja grapes.
The harvest got under way on time in the eastern part of the Wine Region although barely one million kilos were harvested during the first week of September. It was during the third week of September when the harvest became widespread across Rioja Baja, gradually expanding to the rest of the Wine Region during the last week of the month.
The harvest was at an advanced stage in Rioja Baja and widespread throughout the rest of the Wine Region, when rain showers arrived on 28 and 29 September, in amounts between 25 and 60 litres per square metre. These had a very positive effect on ripening, providing a better final balance and increased production levels in a large portion of Rioja vineyards. The harvest concluded in the last week of October.
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