RIOJA 2010 – Excellent Vintage
The Rioja Control Board has officially rated the 2010 vintage ‘Excellent’. This is the result of a strict rating process involving testing and tasting more than four thousand samples of the 284.29 million litres of wine made in this vintage. This result confirms the high expectations prompted by the high quality of the grapes picked during harvest and subsequent winemaking process, pointing to the possibility of 2010 becoming one of Rioja’s historic vintages. The key lies in very favourable weather —which allowed for an excellent state of health of the vines until the end of the growth cycle and very moderate production figures— plus all the dedication and professionalism of growers and winemakers. In the last decade only three vintages earned the ‘Excellent’ rating —2001, 2004 and 2005— while the last four have been rated ‘Very Good’.
The rigorous approval process —which sets Rioja apart from other DOs in Spain, as befits its special condition of ‘Calificada’— provides detailed information on the quality of all wines made from every vintage. Each tank of wine in each bodega is sampled, providing highly reliable figures for the final vintage rating issued by the Rioja Control Board. This final rating is obtained through statistical calculations to ensure complete objectivity. The Control Board has been tightening the requirements of global vintage ratings in recent years, with the aim of maintaining Rioja’s position as a benchmark on the quality wine market.
The 2010 Vintage approval and rating process began in November. Samples were taken in all winemaking bodegas by Control Board overseers. Samples must be 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 sensorial assessment are strictly regulated and the anonymity and confidentiality of all samples tasted are strictly maintained.
A total of 4,008 samples were submitted before the 31 March deadline. Each sample had to pass rigorous analytical and sensorial tests before earning the right to be protected by the Designation. A total of 255.08 million litres (14.49 white, 13.56 rosé and 227.03 red) —plus an additional 5.92 million litres that constitute the qualitative stocks— were approved, while 44 samples (1.56 million litres) were rejected because of analytical or sensorial shortcomings. This is a small percentage in view of the strictness with which rating criteria are applied and clearly an indication of the quality of this vintage. The remaining part of the 277.91 million litres submitted for approval was rejected because of excessive production yields.
Development of the 2010 growing season
According to the report of the Control Board Technical Service, the general development of the vineyards in 2010 was very good across the Wine Region. The growing season proceeded without any significant incidents —including pests and diseases— that might affect production either quantitatively or qualitatively. Excellent canopy development and plant health until the end of the growing cycle ensured normal development compared to the previous year, when the growing season was about ten days ahead of the average.
During the dormant period rainfall across the Wine Region provided sufficient water for the growing season, ranging from 194 litres in Aldeanueva de Ebro to 400 litres in Leza de Álava. Budburst began normally in late March, with 100% buds by early June and normal fertility rates and cluster figures in all varieties —albeit somewhat higher than the previous year for Tempranillo and Viura and lower for Garnacha. Canopy development and plant health was generally good at this time.
Flowering and fruit set were slightly delayed taking place during the month of June. Setting was good, with a predominance of medium-large clusters. The Garnacha vines experienced irregular fruit set and vineyards at higher altitudes also set irregularly across the board. In the last days of July, in the Wine Region’s earliest developing areas, veraison had reached 40% of Tempranillo vines and 10% of Garnacha plants, while it had not started in other grape varieties.
The weather continued to be dry throughout the month of August, with irregular temperatures, alternating cool days with very hot days. For Tempranillo, veraison did not conclude until mid-month in the earliest areas and until the end of the month in the latest-ripening areas. At the end of August, the vineyards showed good overall canopy development and plant health, coping well with the lack of rainfall, although those vineyards located in arid and stony areas began to experience some basal defoliation.
Harvest began on 1 September in the town of Aldeanueva de Ebro with the white grape varieties, that came in good health and an alcohol potential between 13% and 14%. In the first fifteen days of September, few vineyards were picked, and it was not until the end of the month that harvest became widespread in Rioja Baja, gradually starting up in the rest of the Wine Region. Good weather at the beginning of October allowed for higher picking rates, leading to a selective harvest, with slower ripening in areas where yields were higher. The testing parameters in vineyards at higher altitudes evolved faster, as there had been less water stress and, since fruit set had been irregular, the clusters were looser.
Moderate rains around 10 October slowed down the harvest in the middle and higher areas of the Wine Region, with a positive effect on those vineyards that had been affected by the long drought. In the following days, stable weather, low night-time temperatures and mild daytime temperatures, allowed pickers to step up their work, as the grapes arrived at the crush pads in very good health. The grape harvest ended on 31 October with a total figure of 395 million kilos of grapes (33M kg of white grapes and 362M kg of red grapes).