The Sweet White Wines of La Rioja (the Misfit Series)

One might not expect to find sweet, flowery white wines produced in Rioja—a region known for sturdy, Tempranillo-based red wines. However, if you look close enough, you’ll find them. Here they are—defined by the Valles de Sadacia Vino de la Tierra (VdlT/PGP) designation—sweet, floral-scented, golden-hued wines produced side-by-side with the robust red wines of the Rioja DOCa.

The Valles de Sadacia VdlT territory overlaps with the Rioja DOCa, covering the eastern portion of the area and including the Cidacos, Iregua, Leza, and Alhama River Valleys. All of these rivers are tributaries of the eastward-flowing Ebro River, famous for carving out the larger Ebro River Valley.

Fine wines have been produced in (the area now known as) La Rioja since the time of the Roman Empire. By 1635, the mayor of Logroño took it upon himself to protect the wines of the area by passing a law making it illegal to drive carriages past the storage warehouses, for fear that “the vibrations generated by its passage can harm the precious juice and its upbringing.” In 1787, the Real Sociedad Económica de Cosechero de Rioja was created in order to promote and protect the wines of the area and the rest, as they say, is history.

Throughout this long history of wine production, the leading grapes of the region included Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano, Garnacha, Viura, and Malvasia—much as they do today. However, Moscatel—then known as Moscatel Común (Common Moscatel) or Moscatel de la Tierra—was also widely planted and used to produce a range of white wines, including sweet white wines and mistela (a type of sweet, fortified wine made by mixing unfermented or barely fermented grape must with distilled spirits).

Unfortunately, plantings of Moscatel did not fare well in the time following phylloxera, and when the Rioja DOC—later re-invented as the Rioja DOCa—was codified, Moscatel was not included as a permitted variety. The Valles de Sadacia Vino de la Tierra designation was approved in 2003, part of an effort to preserve the history and tradition of these once-famous sweet white wines. The name is based on the term Sadacia—the Roman name for the Cidacos River.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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