The World's Most Powerful Tempranillo is from Ribera del Duero

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As the chilly season draws to a close our thoughts drift toward picnics in the park, fire pits at dusk, and sidewalk cafés. While there’s no reason to banish your red wines at the onset of spring, finding one that’s suited to the transition is key. It should be something bold, rugged and ripe with fresh fruit flavors. It should be a red wine grape that is exciting and easy to drink, even for the white wine lover. It’s the perfect time for Tempranillo! But there’s a catch: you can’t drink just any old Tempranillo.

D.O. Ribera del Duero allows Tempranillo to express its very best self with luscious tannins, dark fruit and rich plum characteristics. The Spanish wine region was home to just nine wineries in 1982, but today there are over two hundred and seventy, and demand has reached a fever pitch. You’ll find Ribera on elite restaurant menus and in retail stores around the world. It’s also known to pop up at Saturday night dinner parties, urban kickball tournaments and candle-lit anniversary celebrations. Read on to get the scoop on Spain’s red-hot red wine region.
Ribera is sweeping the international wine scene with the help of its trend-driving neighbors in Madrid (located just under 120 miles to the region’s south). Paris is to Bordeaux as Madrid is to Ribera: Both are chic European cities that turn to their nearby wine regions for superior quality juice. The life of Tempranillo grapes in Ribera is demanding and extreme. One hundred-plus degree days, summer droughts and sub-zero temperature winters put enormous stress on the vines in Ribera. Don’t worry -- this is a good thing, as stressed-out grapes produce the very best wines. Such conditions create structure and character unlike any other Tempranillo in the world.
 
Ribera Tempranillo is incredibly empathic. The sensitive yet thick-skinned grape is especially skilled at soaking up its terroir’s mysterious nuances. Ribera’s Tempranillo vineyards stretch along the River Duero. The area is quite hilly, running between 2,400 and 2,900 feet above sea level. You’ll find areas checkered with sandy sediment, marl, and chalky limestone. While these wines are generally fruit-forward, the terroir imparts earthy, mineral-rich undertones.
 
The wine glitterati agrees.
 
It’s always worth polling the experts. The wines of Ribera have arrived in the U.S., and they’re here to stay. We surveyed some of the most educated wine palates in the United States to hear what they have to say about Ribera:
 
Master Sommelier Alex LaPratt of Brooklyn’s Atrium DUMBO and Ribera y Rueda brand ambassador: 
 
“In Ribera, you will find wines with more power than average and tremendous terroir expression. They are very different from Rioja because they have a toe – and sometimes a foot – in the New World.” 
 
Charles Ford, Sommelier and Wine Director of The Bristol in Chicago and Ribera y Rueda brand ambassador:
 
“Ribera del Duero, and its thousands of years of winemaking, has built a rock-solid reputation for wines that are synonymous with bold and unapologetic flavors. These wines are made for sommeliers and enthusiasts that are seeking to go all the way when it comes to force and power in a wine.”
 
Deborah Hansen, owner of Taberna de Haro in Boston: 
 
“They are ripe, but not overripe. You still get all that blackberry fruit but with gorgeous tertiary aromas like forest floor, pine needles, baseball glove – and they age beautifully. I tell Malbec drinkers that I will bring them a wine with full body and complexity, and many Riberas fit this bill.” 
 
Joey Campanella, General Manager and Sommelier at Fork Restaurant in Philadelphia:
 
“For red drinkers who like powerful, full bodied and earthy wines…Ribera del Duero is both familiar and exciting.” Read more here
 
Jake Kossef, partner at Miller’s Guild in Seattle:
 
“Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero is delicious because it has so many layers and the wines are so substantial, even the reasonably priced ones. The wines are invariably rich, with deep, cherry and dried plum notes, tar and licorice that are often enhanced by sweetness and dark, spicy flavors from oak. And there is a texture to Ribera del Duero wines as well; firm, long tannins that feel very noble in the mouth make it such a great pairing with rich meat dishes.” Read more here
 
Take a peek at your menu.
 
Ribera Tempranillo is on wine lists across the country, including some of the New York Times’ and Los Angeles Times’ top restaurants of 2015. What to know when you order: 
 
If the wine is labeled Ribera del Duero Denominación de Origen (DO), you will know that it contains at least 75% Tempranillo. Most of the time it will be 100% Tempranillo. Grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, and Garnacha Tinta may also be used.  
 
Sometimes you may see key words on the label or menu to indicate how much time the wine has spent in oak. From the shortest to the longest amount of time, the key words are: Joven, Roble, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. Still, some producers opt for basic labeling without this indication, so when in doubt ask the sommelier.
 
Style a sumptuous pair.
 
What should you pair with your Ribera Tempranillo? Tapas are an obvious choice, especially dishes that are meat-based. Think Croquetas de Jamon (Spanish Ham Croquette), Albóndigas (Meatballs with Sauce), and Pincho Moruno (a spicy meat kebab made with chicken, lamb, or pork). Just about any roast lamb dish should do the trick. While local food with local wine is a timeless choice, sticking with Spanish cuisine isn’t necessary. Some sommeliers suggest off-the-beaten-path choices like Green Tomato BLT (with bacon, frisee and pimento cheese), Braised Short Ribs, Jerk Chicken Wings, Gnocchi, and Skirt Steak. Ribera Tempranillo’s even-keeled acidity also makes it a great friend to white pizzas or mushroom risotto. 
 
For more information on what sommeliers and chefs are saying about or pairing with Ribera del Duero, visit riberaruedawine.com


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