A Marriage of Tradition and Modernity-Ribera del Duero

When you think of winemaking, do you picture a large modern facility or a cave, a press, and a barrel?  When you think of Tempranillo, do you think of fresh, bright fruit or rich layers of leather and spice?    And when you think of Spanish wines, which of these descriptions come to mind?

Ribera 1 (2)

The Drink Ribera campaign visited Austin for the first time this past weekend and treated us to a great information session and some fabulous wines.  The Ribera del Duero region is one of the three main DOs in Spain and, although only officially recognized in the early 80s, they have been producing wines for thousands of years.  With high elevation, warm days, and cool nights, the climate is ideal for viticulture.  The region is named for the Duero river which traverses the region and provide soils of silt, clay, and sand.  In the higher elevations, you find limestone and chalk.

The main grape in the region is Tempranillo, also known as Tinto Fino and Tinto del Pais.  There are no recognized white wines, only rosados and tintos.  We looked at the various designations and sampled both modern and traditional styles of winemaking.  First a quick definition of the designations:

Cosecha: This includes “Joven” wines that do not typically see any oak and “Joven Roble” and “Joven Barrica” which are aged in oak for 3-6 months.  These wines are bright and easy to drink.  They are meant to be enjoyed while they are young.

Crianza:  These wines are aged for 24 months, with 12 being spent in oak.  These wines have a little more body, softer feel, and more depth.

Reserva: Aged three years with a minimum of 12 months in oak.  Full bodied, structured, bold and layered.

Gran Reserva:  Aged 5 years, a minimum of two years in oak, and often additional time in the bottle.

Rosado: Minimal skin to juice contact to great a bright, light rosé.

The Ribera region uses both American and French Oak.  The ratio varies depending on the winemaker.  We often describe wines as Old World and New World, but that line is getting a little fuzzy.  You have winemakers in the states adopting the Old World techniques and the same holds true in Spain.  Some winemakers are making fruit forward wines, styled more like what we’ve come to describe as New World.  You will find a 3rd or 4th generation winemaker that has built a modern facility, but still gives reverence to the techniques that were passed down.  The history and technology combine to give us clean, affordable wines which maintain a sense of place.  Regardless of style, the wines that are coming out of the region are impressive as they are varied, as unique as they are accessible.

Even more impressive is the quality of wine for the price point.  Some wines I tasted, and loved, were in the $8-10 range.  A rich and complex Reserva came in at $24.  I was a big fan of Tempranillo before I arrived.  I love its diversity.  Sampling these gems from Ribera only solidified my affinity for the “Noble grape.”

Viñedos en Pedrosa de Duero (Burgos)

A few favorites:

Valdubon,  10 Cosecha and 07 Reserva

Vina Arnaiz, 09 Crianza and 08 Reserva

Bodegas Valparaiso, 09 Roble and 08 Crianza

Bodegas Y Vinedos Ortega Fournier S.L, Alfa Spiga 06

Many thanks to Drink Ribera Campaign and The Wine and Food Foundation for the invitation to this lovely event. Photos courtesy of Drink Ribera.

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