In a recent sojourn I moved away from my beloved SCV – to Beverly Hills – and from there to Spain – to an event hosted by Tasting Panel magazine. Not to the Rioja I knew but to
Ribera del Duero for all things Tempranillo, light to heavy, short to long finishes and full cherries to deep tannins. Nothing better than spending a day tasting wines that you can find in some restaurants, and wines seeking distribution. Which meant, I got a taste of things I may never have again. But, as I was more than satisfied with everything I tasted that day, I think, very positively, that I will enjoy these wines again.
The only problem I did encounter was that I failed to locate a tasting program, so most of my notes are limited to simple photos at the bottom of this post. If you look there you will only find some of the wines I enjoyed, and the names – most of the time – clear on each label.
Here are some I was able to note: 07 Tinto Pesquera, 07 Condado De Haza, 06 Montecastro, all the purple foil-topped wines from Protos, 07 Monte Pinadillo Crianza, 06 Acon Crianza and an 05 Eremus Crianza.
As I’m still your wine 101er (Level 2 WSET too!) I also went to my host, DrinkRiberaWine.com, for the information you might like to learn more about the wines from this part if Spain from their history to their aging practices.
Cheers! Now, go drink something!
Officially, the Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero was founded on July 21, 1982 by an organization of wine producers and growers who were determined to promote the quality of their wines and enforce regulatory standards.
In practice, winemaking in Ribera dates back over 2,000 years to the Roman era, as evidenced by a recent find, a 66-meter mosaic of Bacchus, the god of wine, unearthed at Baños de Valdearados. In the middle ages, new plantings by monasteries such as the Cistercians in Valbuena de Duero (first to arrive in the 12th Century) and the Benedictines from Cluny in Burgundy spurred a revival in local winemaking. Ribera’s earliest underground cellars with their distinctive chimneys were built in the thirteenth century in towns across the region, and still serve to protect wines from the extreme climate.
Wine became an essential aspect of Ribera’s cultural and economic development facilitating trade with other areas of Spain and resulting in the first quality regulations, the “Ordinances of Castilla y León,” in the fifteenth century. Ribera wines were highly regarded for export at the height of the Spanish Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in more recent times the founding of Bodega Vega Sicilia in 1864 heralded the quality credentials of the region prior to the formal establishment of the D.O.
Today, new technology and modern techniques as well as a respect for tradition have driven the quality of Ribera del Duero to its highest accomplishments in over two millennia of winemaking history. Ribera wines have received international acclaim and enjoy widespread distribution.
The climate of Ribera del Duero is unique and ideally suited to growing quality red grapes. Mediterranean with Continental influences, the Ribera climate is characterized by extremes; the region has the highest average elevation in Europe for growing red wine grapes, hot summers, cold winters, a short growing season, minimal rainfall, and a diversity of soils. Combined, these conditions favor the highest quality winemaking.
Summers are short and hot with temperatures ranging from 50 to 60 °F (10 to 15.5 °C) at night to over 100 °F (38 °C) during the day. Rapid daily temperature changes during the growing season facilitate healthy ripening of the grapes by day, and promote balanced acidity and aromatic complexity at night. Moderate to low rainfall, with an average of approximately sixteen inches per year, and extremely limited summer rainfall, also contributes to a perfect, consistent ripening of the vine.
On average, the vineyards of Ribera are planted between approximately 2,500 to 2,800 feet (760 to 850 meters) above sea level (with some vineyards as high as 3,100 feet or 945 meters), resulting in considerable differential between night and daytime temperatures.
Soil conditions in Ribera are near-perfect, with a great diversity of soils extending from the banks of the Duero to the steepest slopes. Closest to the river, soils are alluvial with sand and reddish clay. At higher elevations, alternating layers of limestone, marl and even chalk are a notable feature, even with many outstanding plantings on limestone sites.
The main grape variety of the Ribera region is Tempranillo, known locally as Tinto Fino or Tinta del País. Tempranillo, an early-ripening variety, (from “temprano” meaning “early”), is ideally suited to Ribera’s shorter growing season and extreme conditions.
Widely planted and cherished throughout Spain, Tempranillo produces red wines that are well-balanced in sweetness, color and acidity and yields fresh and fruity characteristics with appealing aromas such as black plums, cherry, and licorice. In Ribera del Duero Tempranillo yields smaller berries, loose clusters and tougher skin, which encourages more skin-to-juice contact and promotes full-bodied, powerful wines that still retain the grape’s renowned elegance. The combination of power and elegance represents Tempranillo’s signature in Ribera del Duero, and the region’s singular contribution to winemaking today.
D.O. Ribera del Duero adheres to and closely monitors strict quality controls. During harvest each winery is assigned a surveyor by the Consejo Regulador of D.O. Ribera del Duero, the governing body that oversees all aspects of the viticultural and winemaking process. The Consejo regulates where the grapes come from, the varieties used, the percentages allowed, vineyard practices including pruning, density, and yields, winemaking procedures, alcohol levels and labeling. In practice, the wineries consistently outperform the high standards set by the Consejo in order to maximize quality production.
There are several designations for wines that are produced in the Ribera del Duero: Joven, Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva, and Rosado.
Joven: Joven wines have no oak at all. “Joven Roble” and “Joven Barrica” are interchangeable terms that refer to wines aged for a short period of three to six months in oak, released soon after harvest. All wines with a Joven classification are fruity and vibrant, and meant to be consumed quite young.
Crianza: Aged two years, a minimum of twelve months in oak barrels. They can be released after the first of October, two years after the harvest. These wines have well balanced tannins with a full-bodied and velvety mouthfeel.
Reserva: Aged three years, a minimum of twelve months in oak barrels; can only be placed on the market after the first of October of the third year after the harvest. After twelve months in oak barrels, Reserva wines are then bottled and laid down in winery cellars, producing wines that are ready to drink once they enter the market. Reserva wines are elegant and intense, with a rich aftertaste that is long and persistent.
Gran Reserva: Wines of outstanding quality, made in select vintage years only. Aged a minimum of sixty months, with twenty-four months in oak barrels minimum followed by additional bottle aging. First release is allowed after the first of October, five years after the harvest. After twenty-four months in oak barrels, Gran Reserva wines are then bottled and laid down in winery cellars, producing wines ready that are ready to drink at the time of release. Gran Reserva wines are complex and structured, with great balance and vitality.
Rosado: Rosé wines are fermented without the skin of the grape and are available shortly after the harvest. Easy to enjoy, with refreshing wild-berry flavors.
The use of oak is closely regulated by type and classification. In addition, oak barrels are changed every four years on average.
Maximum Yields are limited to 7,000 kilograms per hectare (3.1 tons per acre). In practice, the average yields for the past twenty-two years have rarely exceeded 3,600 kilograms per hectare (1.6 tons per acre), as grape-growers reduce quantity, driven by a pursuit of quality.