The implementation in 1985 of the Approval Plan for Rioja wines, long before it was required by legislation, clearly shows the interest of the D.O. in improving the quality of its wines. Undoubtedly, prior approval of wines for the right to use the Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja has greatly influenced improvements in winemaking techniques and has therefore created higher quality wines, which is the main aim of the D.O. Generally, the analytical parameters which determine good winemaking, such as the total SO2 content, volatile acidity and reducing sugars, are well below the margins permitted by current legislation. Once the aim of improving winemaking had been achieved, which has had a direct effect on lowering the number of wines rejected by analytical tests, the Control Board has worked extensively over recent years at improving the organoleptic features, which are fundamental in differentiating wine type and quality.
The approval process is becoming an entrance exam to determine whether the finished wine is worthy or not of the D.O. The harvest approval process takes place between 1 December and 31 March. More than 4,000 samples, representing all wines produced in the D.O. Calificada Rioja, are taken by Control Board experts from the same tanks where the wines have been fermenting and are analysed in one of the three official D.O. laboratories (Oenological Research Stations in Haro, Laguardia and Olite), to determine whether the components meet the requirements of the Rioja Regulations.
Subsequently, the Board's Approval Committees carry out the organoleptic examination of the samples to evaluate the type, colour, clarity, aroma, flavour and quality of the wine. This is the decisive stage in the approval process, which is carried out individually and without prior comments so that tasters do not influence one other, since tasting is the best way of deciding wine quality as well as its distinguished and unmistakable Rioja personality. The Approval Committees work under the supervision of a Control Board expert and employ over a hundred experts. Each committee is comprised of three tasters -a winegrower, a bodega technician and a member of the Oenological Association- who evaluate the wine tasted, independently and according to strict professional criteria, and determine whether it meets criteria. If it is found to be suitable, it will be granted the right to use the name Rioja.
The strict approval process of Rioja wines provides very detailed information on the quality of all wines produced from each harvest, so giving an excellent technical basis for the Control Board's global rating of the vintage. Unlike vintage ratings issued by other DOs based on tasting a dozen samples, specially selected for the occasion, the rating of Rioja vintages is based on results of the chemical and organoleptic analyses of samples taken directly from all the wine-producing bodegas, which is undoubtedly much more objective. This official vintage rating is carried out on recently produced wines which is why "it must be completed with reference to the evolution of wines subjected to ageing", an evaluation reflected by the Board in the Rioja Vintages Chart.