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  ABC Wine Issue 33, September 2005   
Ribera del DueroRibera del Duero  Contents 
Issue 32, Summer 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 34, October 2005

Ribera del Duero

Land of red wines, here white wines are almost unknown, Ribera del Duero is capable of expressing excellent quality with intensely concentrated wines, with a full body and among the most longeval of Spain

 The Duero - the river originating from Spain and emptying its course in the Atlantic ocean - has a strong connection with wine. In Spain it crosses the wine areas of Ribera del Duero, Rueda and Toro, whereas in Portugal - where its name becomes Douro - entirely crosses the wine areas of Port and Douro. Among the wine areas of Spain in which this river flows, Ribera del Duero certainly is the most important one and here are being produced interesting and renowned red wines, among the most longeval of the country. Frequently, Ribera del Duero wines are considered among the other great red wines of Spain - in particular the ones from Rioja - however the differences are many, including environmental and climatic conditions, even though they share the same grape. In fact, what in Rioja and in the world is known as Tempranillo, in Ribera del Duero is called Tinto Fino - or Tinta del País - and here, just like in Rioja, is the main protagonist in vineyards. It is not by chance in this area are almost being produced red wines: here white wines play a pretty marginal role and are mainly destined to local consumption.

 Despite Ribera del Duero has been recognized as a quality production area since a little more than twenty years, its history - according to an enological point of view - began almost 150 years ago. It was in 1864 that Don Eloy Lacanda y Chaves - coming back from Bordeaux where he studied enology - planted the first vineyards with the goal of producing wines in the French style. From his journey in France he brought back to Castilla some exemplars of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, and he decided to cultivate them - in the vineyards at Valladolid - together with the most typical grape of the area: Tinto Fino, better known as Tempranillo. The result was a wine that - even after more than one hundred years - is still considered among the best wines of Spain as well as - until the 1990's - the best wine of Ribera del Duero. This is how the renowned Vega-Sicilia's “Unico” was born, the wine which boosted Spanish enology to the top of the world and which has a wide number of passionate supporters among wine lovers. Talking about the history of enological quality in Ribera del Duero, it is practically impossible not to mention the important role played by the magnificent wine of Vega-Sicilia, even and in particular in times when in this area were produced pretty ordinary wines only.


Ribera del Duero
Ribera del Duero

 The age of some vineyards of Vega-Sicilia, in which are being cultivated Cabernet Sauvignon and Tinto Fino, is of more than one hundred years and their precious grapes still contribute to make the “Unico” wine a great product. Vega-Sicilia's Unico is also one of the most longeval wines of the world and it is rarely commercialized before ten years of aging in cask. In fact, there are no commercial or periodical rules which imposes the release of wines: the choice is uniquely based on wine maker's decisions who allows the wine to age in the cask for all the time he believes to be necessary to make unique the renowned wine of Vega-Sicilia. It is enough to think that in 1991 was released the 1982 vintage together with 1968. Whereas in the former case nine years of aging were considered enough for the wine to be ready, in the latter case they waited even 23 years. The productive strictness of Vega-Sicilia also imposes that in years considered of not sufficiently good quality - usually two or three years in ten years - Unico wine is not produced.

 From more than one hundred years, the prestige of Vega-Sicilia had no rivals in Ribera del Duero. In 1972, Alejandro Fernández starts, in the neighborings of Pesquera de Duero vintage, his winery. As opposed to Vega-Sicilia, Alejandro Fernández decides to use Tinto Fino only to make his wines. After having harvested the grapes from vineyards - and pressed appropriately - the must is then transferred in casks to ferment - therefore allowed to age - and avoiding any practice of filtering. The result is a deeply concentrated and rich wine, extremely complex. Only after the half of the 1980's his wine was released for the first time on the market: it was a striking success which still today has a number of passionate supporters worldwide. The renowned Tinto Pesquera - this is the name of Alejandro Fernández's wine - is today among the most looked for and appreciated Spanish wines in the world. Pesquera Tinto therefore proved that in Ribera del Duero was possible to make great wines with Tinto Fino grape and - in particular - capable of long period of aging.

 The wines of Alejandro Fernández and Vega-Sicilia, thanks to their quality, attracted the interest of consumers in Ribera del Duero and other producers began to invest money on the production of wine. It was only in 1982 that Ribera del Duero was recognized by the Spanish quality system as a Denominación de Origen area (Denomination of Origin), abbreviated as DO. From that moment on, everything changed in Ribera del Duero and they tried to abandon the mediocre quality level which characterized the wines for a very long time, excluding the ones of Vega-Sicilia and Alejandro Fernández, of course. Producers began to ensure themselves the help of talented wine makers who made of quality their main goal. Wine began to play a fundamental and important role in the whole area and today Ribera del Duero's wines are being considered among the best ones of Spain. In general terms, the first change happened in the 1980's, however it will be around the half of 1990's - when the wines of the most serious producers were released in the international market - the mediocrity of Ribera del Duero's wines, typical until 1970's, was forgotten.

 

Classification of Ribera del Duero

 Ribeira del Duero's wines are classified according to the Spanish enological quality system. Wines of this area are classified as DO (Denominación de Origen) and the production is almost exclusively about red wines. The Ribera del Duero wine area spreads over an area of about 120 square kilometers (about 46 square miles) and mainly located in four districts of Castilla and León region: Burgos (where the largest vineyard acreage is found), Soria, Segovia and Valladolid, the most famous area in which the most renowned wineries are located at. Enological production is almost exclusively about red wines made with Tinto Fino grape, considered as a genetic mutation of the Tempranillo grape known in Rioja. Other red berried grapes of Ribera del Duero include Garnacha Tinta - mainly used for the production of rose wines - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. The only white berried grape of the area is Albillo, cultivated in small quantities and from which are being produced white wines typically destined to local consumption.


 

 Red wines of Ribera del Duero are classified according to quality of grapes and to aging time, just like in Rioja. The lowest category is represented by tintos joven (young reds), simple wines and with fruity aromas, which are common in the local market and are not exported. The next category is crianza, to which belong wines with at least two years of aging in cask. Crianzas generally have aromas of cherry with a vague hints of “earthy” as well as aromas of vanilla and spices. Reserva wines are produced with superior quality grapes and must have a minimum aging period of three years. Reservas wines are characterized by their full body and full structure, good concentration and better quality than crianzas. The highest category is represented by gran reserva, to which belong wines with a minimum aging period of five years. Gran reservas are wines of great elegance and class in which the long aging allows aromas to have an interesting development and complexity: they represent a very small percentage of all the wine produced in Ribera del Duero. Reserva and gran reserva wines are usually produced in particularly favorable years. The category of quality (crianza, reserva and gran reserva) are always mentioned in the label and are certified by a special seal released by the council for the safeguarding of Ribera del Duero wines.

 

Wines of Ribera del Duero

 Ribera del Duero is located at about 130 kilometers north from Madrid (about 80 miles) - in the Castilla and León region - in a territory of rocky plains crossed by the course of Duero river, that in Portugal is called Douro. Ribera del Duero is a wine region in which are mainly produced reds, however there is also a small production of white and rose wines, mainly destined for local consumption. The best red wines of this area are pretty concentrated, full bodied, with complex aromas, however showing a good balance among the many components. A typical characteristic of Ribera del Duero's red wines is aging that here can also be of more than ten years and far beyond the minimum requirements set by the production disciplinary. Just like in Rioja, for the aging of wines, new casks are rarely used, instead they often are used cask in order to give wine a less aggressive woody and more harmonic character. Just like in Rioja, casks are usually made from American oak.

 The most typical grape in Ribera del Duero is Tinto Fino - also known as Tinta del País - a genetic mutation of Tempranillo. After centuries of adaptation in the hot plains of Ribera del Duero, Tinto Fino produces more robust and concentrated wines than the Tempranillo known in Rioja. Ribera del Duero's climate is pretty severe, with summertime characterized by high temperatures and wintertime with rigid temperatures, frequently below zero degrees Celsius. Despite these extreme meteorological conditions, Tinto Fino - the most common grape of this area - was successful in perfectly adapting itself therefore allowing Ribera del Duero's wines to reach high enological levels after the “awakening” of the 1980's. Most of the vineyards cultivated in the Ribera del Duero have a pretty old age, frequently older than fifty years and some of them even have an older age. The old age of vineyards gives a lower quantity of grapes, however they have a higher concentration of flavors, one of the good qualities of red wines produced in this area.

 The condition of the region is partially mitigated by the influence of Duero river, which in summertime contributes to temper the dry and arid climate by increasing humidity, whereas in autumn and springtime contributes to diminish the effects and frequency of frosts. The most renowned wine area of Ribera del Duero - where the most prestigious wineries are found - is near Valladolid, located in the western area of the region. In most of the cases, Ribera del Duero's red wines are produced with 100% Tinto Fino grape, however the adding of other grapes are allowed as well. Albillo - the only white berried grape of the region - is sometimes added to the robust red wines of Ribera del Duero and it is marginally used for the production of white wines exclusively destined to local consumption. Tinto Fino represents about 85% of all the grapes cultivated in Ribera del Duero, whereas the remaining part is represented by Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha Tinta, as well as the white Albillo. Garnacha Tinta is typically used for the production of rose wines, mainly consumed in the local market. The best wines of Ribera del Duero are characterized by a full body, charming smoothness and round tannins because of the long aging in cask, complex aromas of spices, leather and fruit jams.

 




 Editorial  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 33, September 2005   
Ribera del DueroRibera del Duero  Contents 
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