Before the fast-track fame of Priorat et al, Rioja had made Spain famous, the one word the world knew when it came to Iberian output. Geography helps. The Sierra de Cantabria (mountains) form a stunning visual and critical geographical backdrop along Rioja's northern edge, protecting the vines from the bulk of the chill Atlantic winds that would firmly slam shut the ripening window for Garnacha and Tempranillo, the region's dominant red varieties. There are three distinct sub-regions, all of which have their own unique soils, topography and style of village inn, but many of the wines are blends from all three anyway, harnessing the best of the differences and making something that is uniquely Rioja. Rioja Alta brings some acidity, finesse and structure, Rioja Alavesa, with its warmer slopes, a quicker-maturing aspect to the ripening picture, while the flatlands of the Rioja Baja are Grenache Country and deliver deep-coloured, robust styles, fat fifteen-percenters that require cutlery rather than a corkscrew.