Ribera del Duero. There is something quietly compelling about that little suite of words alone that gets my imagination going and my tastebuds bolstered. After I creepily whisper the words aloud, I'm left with the taste of lingering black cherries, sweet vanilla, and toasted spices. This dynamic Spanish wine region has been racking up devotees for the last 30 years, and is now rivaling nearby Rioja’s crown for its production of sleek, dark, richly-concentrated wines, that are plush on the palate and relatively easy on the wallet.
Ribera del where-o?
Sometimes the most impressive characters rise from the most dismal of places. This region in central Spain is a perfect example; a desolate, rocky and rigid terrain, with bleak, flat-topped heights for miles. Bereft of inspiration, the brooding Tempranillo grape must look inward and grows a bubbling personality for itself; its bursting potential develops a complex character ready to pour into often-outstanding wines. Ribera del Duero’s wines are big without being showy; they are restrained by Old World sensibilities.
The Spanish have been drinking Tempranillo for over 2000 years — they know what they’re doing. It has an ancient taste; brimming with history. Spain’s most prized grape is enthusiastically planted except in the hot South, and in RIbera del Duero it is known locally as Tinta del Pais or Tinto Fino, making up up to 100% of the blend. Tempranillo has an affinity for oak ageing — producing darkly-fruited, long-lived wines with a spice and vanilla character and a silky smooth finish.
In the 80s, Roger Parker waxed lyrical about the finesse and character of the wines of Ribera del Duero, and in the same decade the region became a Denominación de Origen (DO), and rapidly was not simply on the map but shooting to eminence as an absolute must-drink. The region is going from strength to strength, and today boasts many bodegas of exceptional quality, and winemakers with notable talent and precision.
What else raises Ribera’s rank
Along with stellar winemaking techniques, a few terroir-related factors come into play to make Ribera del Duero an impressive wine. The high altitude, which means temperature swings of hot days and cool nights, preserves the pure, fruit flavours and acidity of the grapes, and adds a little freshness which gives the wines a lively touch. Compared to nearby La Rioja, the temperatures are more extreme, which can result in a more concentrated wine, with a fuller body and a more intense flavour and colour. Ribera wines have more of a dark fruit profile while Riojas have aromas of red fruits like strawberry or raspberry. The vines here are old — on average 60 years — and soils are limestone-rich; two factors which can translate to strapping wines with deep colour and bold flavour and structure.
Altos de Ontañon Ribera del Duero Crianza 2012
€19.99 available at the Wine Buff nationwide and www.thewinebuff.com
Deep red cherry colour and lashings of dark fruit on the palate. Round, balanced, and silky, with good tannic structure and lively acidity. Excellent length of flavour — the wine lingers on the palate with black cherries, roasted plums and spice.
This is an extract from my January article for thetaste.ie. Catch the full article here: