Wines of the Ribera del Duero

The Soul of Tempranillo from the Heart of Spain


Spanish wines have recently taken the market by storm, but with so many great wines and regions sometimes it’s a challenge to find wines that truly express the terroir and soul of Spain. Without a doubt, the grandest grape for Spanish wines is Tempranillo, and the Ribera del Duero offers the highest expression of this noble grape. No pun intended, though the vineyards of the Ribera are among the highest in all of Spain.

I was first turned on to the wines of the Ribera del Duero quite a long time ago, when pretty much the only one on offer was the famous Vega Sicilia Unico. Back in the day, Unico was an expensive wine, but still within the grasp of a student like myself, particularly when said student was looking for a 1965 birthday wine. 1965 is, shall we say, a very difficult year around the globe, but the Unico was remarkable. That one bottle was filled not only with the storied winegrowing traditions of the Ribera del Duero, but also with the uniquely compelling expression that Tempranillo offers in these rugged vineyards.

Fortunately today we are blessed with many producers from Ribera del Duero, each offering their own wine, each “Excelente” in its own way, allowing each winemaker to express a vision without robbing the wine of all that is Ribera del Duero. It's time to take a look at the wines of the Ribera del Duero and see for yourself how compelling and complete these wines can be. With the 2009 vintage rated Excelente by the Consejo Regulador of the Denomination of Origin Ribera del Duero -- a rating given for only the fourth time in the 27 years since the formation of the appellation Ribera del Duero -- there has never been a better time to explore the Ribera del Duero.

What to expect: Ribera del Duero

With an intense summer season that sees high temperatures and limited rainfall, the early ripening Tempranillo yields amazingly rich wines in the Ribera that benefit from the grapes' fine acid and abundant yet soft tannins. The classic wines of the Ribera reveal deep, powerful fruit flavors draped over that structure, and just a hint of rusticity that gives these elegant wines a hint of a rogue-ish nature. They are ideally suited to being served with rich grilled and braised meats, and lamb in particular.
While only recognized with a DO (Denominacion de Origen) in 1982, Spain’s Ribera del Duero has been home to vineyards for millennia, as evidenced by the recent discovery of an ancient mural of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and festivals.

It’s no surprise that the wine industry continued to flourish in this region where the Mediterranean and Continental climates of Europe collide across the rolling hills of the Ribera. Over 700 years ago the winemakers in the region understood that their wines needed to be protected from the intense heat of the summer, and many of these ancient cellars are still in use today, working perfectly to allow for the slow and measured maturation of some of the finest wines in the Ribera.

That intense heat, along with limited rainfall and fantastic terroir of the vineyards in the Ribera, which range from alluvial soils closer to the Duero river to limestone and chalk rich plots that climb the hills of the valley, turn out to be an ideal setting for Spain’s greatest grape to flourish.  In fact the average height of Ribera’s vines range between 2500 and 2800 feet, means that while summer days are hot, the evenings see cooling temperatures that allow for the super ripe Tempranillo that Ribera is famous for to retain exceptional balancing acidity. From Rosado to Gran Reserva – there is a Ribera for every occasion.

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  • Snooth User: Chris Salvatori
    Hand of Snooth
    93847 123

    Greg - there are certainly a lot of crianza's from the region out there. So good job in helping to differentiate some of the brands.

    Jun 02, 2010 at 4:27 PM

  • Snooth User: Iboboy
    111231 44

    Note that it is unlikely "Tempranillo" will be on a wine from Ribera del Duero. It is usually called Tinto Fino there.

    Jun 02, 2010 at 4:35 PM

  • Snooth User: Chris Salvatori
    Hand of Snooth
    93847 123

    The "Tempranillo" is also called "Tinta del País" in that region as well.

    But you just got to love how the Spaniards have so many local names for this varietal, I guess such is the uniqueness of the grape in different parts of the country.

    Jun 02, 2010 at 4:41 PM

  • Snooth User: courgette
    124481 158

    Thanks for the wonderful and useful piece, Greg. (I especially appreciate hearing about any wine which can be described as "roguish"!) I keep meaning to do a bit of study on Spanish wine regions, so this is a good nudge.

    I've been a big fan of Spanish rosés (in general) since the 80's--long before they began to be treated with respect here, and it was always hard to get hold of them in the USA. It's great to see that changing at last. There's a very fine little under-the-radar wine shop in Minneapolis which was ahead of the vanguard on the rosé thing, and carries lots of Spaniards (as well as French & Italians)-- Zipp's. Anyone in the Twin Cities who likes trying lesser-known wines with smaller distribution should head over there. Their Spanish selection is great beyond rosados, too.

    Jun 02, 2010 at 5:35 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,942

    I just had an excellent Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero (2006 Aalto--superb wine with plenty of oak bringing toast, pencil lead and spice on the nose, a lusciously rich and dense palate with lots of black fruit, and a very long finish; still too young even after 4 hour decant; will gain much more complexity with age, I imagine) and they call the grape Tinto Fino. That got me curious, so I went hunting for all the synonyms for tempranillo I could find:
    Aldepenas, Aragones, Aragonêz (Portugal), Aragonez Da Ferra, Aragonez de Elvas, Arganda, Arinto Tinto, Cencibel (Castile La Mancha, Madrid, Aragón, Extremadura, Murcia), Cencibera, Chinchillana (Extremadura), Chinchillano, Chinchilyano, Cupani, Escobera (Extremadura, S. America), Garnacho Foño (S.America), Grenache de Logrono, Jacibiera (Castile La Mancha, S. America), Jacivera, Juan Garcia, Negra de Mesa, Ojo de Liebre, Olho de Lebre, Sensibel, Tempranilla, Tempranillo de la Rioja, Tempranillo de Perralta, Tempranillo de Rioja, Tempranillo de Rioza, Tinta Aragones, Tinta de Santiago, Tinta de Toro, Tinta Do Inacio, Tinta Monteira, Tinta Monteiro, Tinta Roriz (Portugal), Tinta Roriz Da Penajola, Tinta Santiago, Tinto Aragon, Tinto Aragonez, Tinto de la Ribera, Tinto de Madrid (Toledo, Cantabria, Salamanca, Soria, Valladolid, Madrid), Tinto del País (Castile/Leon, Rioja), Tinto de Rioja, Tinto de Toro (Zamora), Tinto del Toro, Tinto Fino (Castile/Leon, Madrid, Valencia, Extremadura, Rioja), Tinto Madrid, Tinto Pais, Tinto Ribiera, Tinto Riojano, Ull de Llebre (Catalan for "Eye of the Hare"), Valdepeñas (also in California), Verdiell (Catalonia), Vid de Aranda (Burgos),[25] Tinta Santiago (S. America) and Tinta Montereiro (S. America).

    Most thanks are due to and Wikipedia...

    Jun 02, 2010 at 11:14 PM

  • Snooth User: WineYolanda09
    Hand of Snooth
    302051 108

    Another good example of Ribera terroir is Valtravieso Crianza. Plenty of fruit still in it, coffee and cocoa notes and good structure. And good value, at about $15 a bottle.

    Jun 03, 2010 at 3:39 AM

  • Snooth User: juande2
    476493 5

    The most impressive I've ever tasted was Linaje Garsea Reserva 2005. Truly amazing. Cacao, toffees, chocolates perfect integrate. Fantastic balance and the price in the restaurant didn't pass the 25 euros. This price for a Ribera del Duero Reserva is so good when a wine of its quality comes full of surprises and sensations.
    Linaje Garsea 05

    Jun 04, 2010 at 6:42 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Thanks everyone. These are some impressive wines with many values out there.

    Jun 04, 2010 at 10:43 AM

  • Snooth User: mmrmaid
    304930 43

    on my desk i have a post it with notes from a wine spectator regarding a 2005 Izquierdo Antonio Ribera del Duero ...
    "cedar violet blueberry minerals black fruit plummy opulent" advocate gave it 96 points, it's 100% tempranillo..the flavor profile just intrigued me to no end, and after reading your article, methinks i need to go find a bottle!

    Jun 30, 2010 at 11:56 AM

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