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Rioja vs Montsant | Wine Style, Difference And Value

Believe it or not, the best wine from Spain doesn’t just come from Rioja! There are many great wines from lesser known, almost secret Spanish wine regions, including one of our favourites. A little known area of Catalunya, called the Montsant wine region!

With this in mind, we thought it’d be good to compare Montsant DO with the powerhouse and world renowned Spanish wine region of Rioja DOCa. We’re going to be looking at the styles, the differences and value for money.

WHAT IS RIOJA DOCa?

Rioja DOCa is a Spanish wine-region, located in the ‘Basque Country’. It is arguably the most famous wine producing region in Spain, boasting over 600 wineries and over 16,000 vineyards! As a point of reference, Basque Country region is in northern Spain, due north of Madrid and north west of Barcelona.

DOCa means Designation of Origin Calificada, Spain’s most prestigious and protected Geographical Indication. This means that winemakers must follow strict rules when producing their wine if they want to label it as Rioja.

WINE MYTH BUSTED: RIOJA IS NOT A GRAPE!

Contrary to popular belief, Rioja is NOT a grape. If you like red wine from Rioja then you are more than likely a fan of Tempranillo. Most red wines from Rioja are blended, however the primary is nearly always Tempranillo.

Rioja Wine Region | Travel Spanish Wine Regions | Savage Vines
Sierra de la Demanda Mountain Range, Rioja
WHAT IS MONTSANT DO?

Montsant is a sub-region of Catalunya and was registered as a ‘DO‘ in 2001. For those who don’t know, ‘DO’ is in reference to a Designation of Origin for the wine. Montsant DO is the newest official addition to the Catalunyan wine-scape. Before it became its own sub-region, it formed part of Tarragona DO.

Getting to Montsant is easy enough. You have to fly in to Barcelona and either drive or catch a train south for a couple of hours. For more details on how to get there, read our Montsant Holiday Guide .

Travel In Spain | Montsant Wine Region | Spanish Wine Regions
Montsant Mountain Range
STYLE AND DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RIOJA AND MONTSANT
RED WINES FROM RIOJA

Red Rioja wines are normally Tempranillo based blends. Garnacha Negra, Graciano and Mazuela (aka Carinena/Carignon) are often blended with the Tempranillo grapes. The blend makeup adds variations of alcohol level, acidity and spiciness in the wine.

Rioja, like any wine, can vary in taste between wineries. Having said that, there are distinctive qualities you can identify Rioja red wines by.

Rioja red wines are well structured due to the high tannin levels found in Tempranillo grapes. Garnacha grapes are sometimes used to to add alcohol content and bring up the spice flavours. Taking this into account, expect a well structured, full bodied red wine with elegant spice and dark fruit aromas, like black cherry, black plum, vanilla . In aged Rioja like Reserva or Grand Reserva, you can expect more leathery and earthy aromas.

Rioja reds are always aged in oak. In order to make a smoother wine, Most winemakers are using French and Hungarian oak barrels, rather than American, however some producers such as Javier San Pedro Ortega use a blend of both American and French oak.

HOW DOES FRENCH AND AMERICAN OAK IMPACT A WINE’S TASTE

The difference between oak styles is down to the grain length of the wood. French and Hungarian oak barrels are tighter grained and more dense than American oak (The ‘rings‘ on tighter grained woods will be closer together).

These factors mean that French and other European oak barrels impart less lactones on the wine, bringing out silky and lighter tannins. These bring a light sweetness to the wines with an almost almond-like aroma.

American oak is longer grained, so it’s less dense. This gives off about four times as much lactones as its European counterparts. This imparts a lot more powerful and robust vanilla aroma, which makes it better suited for ageing heavier, more structured wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon

SPANISH WINE LABELS, EXPLAINED

Depending on the amount of time Spanish wine spends ageing in oak barrels, the wine will receive either Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva status.

SPANISH WINE LABELS | CRIANZA
Crianza bottle specifications
SPANISH WINE LABELS | RESERVA
Reserva Wine Label
SPANISH WINE LABELS | GRAN RESERVA
Gran Reserva Wine Label
RED WINES FROM MONTSANT:

Montsant reds are often blended, and Garnacha Negra (Grenache) is the base or primary grape. Carignan is often added, so expect very powerful red wine, really well suited with grilled and BBQ’s red meat dishes. It isn’t uncommon to find single varietal (100%) Garnacha wines either.

Montsant vineyards are based around the beautiful Montsant mountain range. This means that a lot of the grapes are harvested at higher altitudes which brings acidity to the wine. The added acidity balances out the heavy alcohol and tannin presence from the Grenache.

French oak ageing adds structure, notes of dried fruit, dill and aromas of… toasted oak (shock horror).

RIOJA WHITE WINES

White wines from Rioja, make up only around 10% of wine production in the region, so you won’t find them regularly in well-known shops/supermarkets.

Typically, a white Rioja is Viura based (also known as Macabeu in Montsant). Other grape varieties allowed in white Rioja are Verdejo, Garnacha Blanca, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia and Tempranillo Blanc. Viura has to make up at least 51% of the total wine blend.

Most white Rioja is released after one year and oak ageing isn’t required. With this in mind, expect fruity and citrus aromas such as lime, lemon and elements of honeydew melon. As white Rioja gets older, these flavours transcend into beautiful mature flavours such as honey, candied fruits and pineapple. Expect white Rioja wines to be dry with medium acidity.

MONTSANT WHITE WINES:

Like Rioja, white wine production in Montsant is minimal. They are typically based with Garnacha Blanca, which produces fuller-bodied white wines. Other white grapes permitted include Macabeu (aka Viura in Rioja), Chardonnay and Muscat. The Macabeu in white Montsant helps bring acidity to the wine.

Montsant whites wine normally goes through barrel fermentation. With this in mind, expect pronounced oak notes of cedar, vanilla and cloves. This balances the lovely acidity citrus fruit like limes, lemons and sometimes grapefruit that you find in Montsant white wines.

RIOJA OR MONTSANT? WHICH IS BETTER VALUE FOR MONEY?

It’s easier to find and buy Rioja, as is a lot more widely available than Montsant. Nine times out of ten you’re going to find that Rioja is going to be cheaper. This is because there are a lot more wineries, producing on a bigger scale. As mentioned Rioja boasts 600 wineries, whereas Montsant has just under 60.

These factors will have an impact on the price, as the smaller producers from Montsant don’t get the economies of scale that Rioja wineries have. Having said that, you can find decent Montsant wines which will not break the bank.

Have a look below for our list of best buy Rioja and Montsant wines

RIOJA:
CUVEA DE LOBOS CRIANZA
Good value Spanish wine | Cueva De Lobos | Savage Vines

Hints of clean wood aromas stand out on the nose due to the newer barrels used in ageing. Lots of red fruits on the nose with hints of spice. This is a very well-balanced and clean wine with notable touches of roasted coffee and spices. 

This fantastic wine is available for as little as £8.25, so what are you waiting for? Buy Rioja here

BODEGA VEGA – RIOJA BLANCO
Rioja Vega | Rioja White Wine

A very light and fragrant single varietal un-oaked white Rioja made solely from the Viura grape variety. The 2017 Vega Blanco packs youthful fruity citrus flavours with hints of herbs on the finish.

Taste buds tingling at the sound of this wine? Well, you can buy Rioja Vega for under £10!

MONTSANT
GALILEA BY FIONA – PYTHAGORA
Galilea Pythagora | Montsant Red Wine

You simply have to try Pythagora. We featured this in our Montsant Wine Guide and stock it ourselves. This wine is made from 100% Grenacha/Garnacha grapes and packs beautiful red fruit and spice flavours. The 2014 has matured and developed rich leather notes that add further complexity to the wine.

Partial to Pythagora? Well you can buy the wonderful 2014 for as little as £17.99

ACUSTIC CELLER BLANC
Acustic Celler Blanc | Garnacha Blanc

The first thing you’ll notice about is the rich concentration of flavour. The wine is from Garnacha Blanc, Xarello (aka Pansal) and Macabeu grapes harvested from old vines, ranging from 40-80 years old.

 Stainless steel fermentation brings out zesty and citrus fruit aromas, whereas new French oak gives the wine slight oak and savoury notes. 

Love the sound of Acustic Blanc? For as little as £12.35


If you are looking to discover and learn about new wines then Savage Vines is for you. Savage Vines imports wine from small independent vineyards from around the world into the United Kingdom. The wines we source are made by small family businesses and by supporting us you are supporting them and that is our mission. Join our wine subscription from £29.95 a month (free delivery) and we will send you two unique, high quality wines which you will not find on the high street or supermarket shelves. Monthly wine subscription boxes come with tasting notes and a podcast talking you through each wine. Monthly subscribers’ also get 25% off wine repurchases. Gift or join the subscription today.

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By James Ward

3rd July 2019