Discovering Ribera del Duero

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With its extreme weather conditions and unique topography, Ribera del Duero is a region that demands extreme patience and dedication from its winemakers. Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW explores the increasing complexity of the region’s wines and recommends 10 bottles to try.

Credit: Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Ribera del Duero
Credit: Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Ribera del Duero

In the past, Ribera del Duero used to produce a large variety of wine styles. But the region first found international recognition with one particular style: Tempranillo-based blends, concentrated and aged in oak.

The commercial success of these wines soon attracted both investment and expertise to the area. Studies resulted in more intimate knowledge of the different terroirs, with vineyards ranging in altitude from 720m to 1,100m and diverse soils of clayey sand alternating with layers of limestone and calcareous rock.

Along with the development of more refined markets, these developments encouraged diversification among premium producers. The process is still at an early stage, but it’s clear that the huge diversity of terroirs in Ribera must result in diversity of wines.

While the region’s classic icons are here to stay, winemakers would be foolish not to explore the quality potential of different terroirs, which are ideal for producing other styles. With that in mind, the 10 wines I have selected below, on top of being very good, also represent some of the main trends in Ribera.

First, the classic style, represented by Pérez Pascuas; a wine released more than five years after harvest and made for the long run. Those wines are a unique Ribera’s asset.

Next, the viñeros, small vine-growers that have become winemakers, the equivalent of Champagne’s vignerons, who are bound to create a new category in the region. Milénico, whose first vintage is 2015, is a good representative.

The third trend sees renowned wineries from other parts of Spain – mainly Rioja, but also Catalonia, Andalusia and other regions – making heavy investments in Ribera. They aim to put their Ribera offer at the high-end of their ranges. Legaris, from Codorníu, is a good example.

Legaris also represents another trend: zonification. It is the first village wine in the region. Zonification is at its best with single-vineyard wine (though even in a single vineyard there can be a huge range of soil types). Indefectibly made from old vines in small plots, they will create an image reference, although made in minute quantities and with consequently high prices. Two of the wines respond to this model.

Credit: Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Ribera del Duero
Credit: Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Ribera del Duero

Vinos de autor are blends of top wines from selected vineyards, with luxury winemaking. Sometimes impressive, most often top quality. Pesus and Aalto PS are benchmarks.

However, not everybody can afford a top Ribera del Duero. So I have included a wine by Bohórquez as a pristine example of very good affordable Ribera, well above entry-level, with no shortcuts to quality. This is a key category, in my view, to keep the whole region going.

I also believe that Ribera’s potential for complex iconic rosé wines is huge. Producers are turning away from replicating styles such as Provence rosé or California’s blush wines, to focus on historical styles such as clarete, which they are actively trying to improve and develop. These wines have nothing to do with commercial styles; they are simply the best possible expression of certain terroirs. Le Rosé de Antídoto is a shining example.

Finally Ribera’s white wines also deserve attention. They are made from native grape variety, Albillo Mayor, whose capacity to yield personality, quality and, probably, ageability, is amazing. Valduero is the front runner for those wines; they have set the bar very high.

Ten wines to try

Bodegas Valduero, Blanco de Albillo Criado sobre Lías, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y Léon, Spain, 2019

Score: 95

Drink: From 2020 to 2025

Tasting note: The first white wine from Ribera del Duero, pure Albillo Mayor made with utmost care to enhance the grape virtues. Not very aromatic but clean and precise. Round and smooth in mouth, broad-shouldered but easygoing, quite distinctive. I applaud the originality; it is an excellent introduction to understand future potential of Albillo in Ribera. One day white Ribera will be highly appreciated, I bet. Ready to drink, but I think it would be interesting to taste this wine again in four to five years. 14%

Bodegas Antídoto, Le Rosé de Antídoto, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y Léon, Spain, 2018

Score: 96

Drink: From 2020 to 2033

Tasting note: A most original wine, deliciously firm and serious, liquid proof than rosé can be at the top, and gives more room for expressing some terroirs. The tannins provide for a round and powerful structure. The wine is quite restrained, to become open and expressive in the lingering finish. Muscle and suave texture at once. A great unique wine. I prefer this vintage to 2017, which was slightly oaky and not so subtle as 2018. Field blend of Tinto Fino and Albillo, from centenary vines in Soria. For sure, a wine to keep. 14.5%

Bodegas Hermanos Pérez Pascuas, Pérez Pascuas Gran Selección , Ribera del Duero, Castilla y Léon, Spain, 2012

Score: 95

Drink: From 2020 to 2042

Tasting note: Classic Gran Reserva from Pedrosa, a benchmark for this style of wines, which have already demonstrated how well, and slowly, they age in bottle. Restrained, with dry fruits, toasty notes, spice, cedar, some leather and forest fruit aromas. Subtle and harmonious palate, with magic balance and a velvety texture. This is a wine to feel rather than to taste. It is not about aromas but about the sense of touch and the sensorial memory that the wine leaves behind. One of the most distinctive top Ribera, made to get better during the next decades. Ribera cannot be understood if this wine is not tasted. 14%

Hermanos Sastre, Pesus, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y Léon, Spain, 2015

Score: 94

Drink: From2020 to 2035

Tasting note: Epitome of the blockbuster wines in Ribera. An impressive style, it used to be so rich and powerful that it lost some grace, but in 2015 it achieves more delicacy. Intensely perfumed, with aromas of the ripest fruit and the top quality French oak, as usual. Then in mouth it becomes much gentler, quite juicy, with a more complex finish. I tasted it again after three hours, and it became rounder, even more complex. Definitely a wine to keep. A benchmark in its style. 14.5%

Valdemonjas, Abrí Las Alas, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y Léon, Spain, 2015

Score: 94

Drink: From 2020 to 2030

Tasting note:Single-vineyard wine, in La Horra zone, with minute yields and production. An understated jewel, likely to become much more expensive in the near future. Restrained nose, with elegant blackcurrant and minty overtones, plus discreet toasty aromas form the barrique. Full body in attack, it becomes juicy and consistent on the palate, with a very slight saline note that gives a feeling of graciousness. It is long and distinctive, definitely worth trying. It would for sure keep very well, but now it is already a beauty. 15%

Aalto, PS, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y Léon, Spain, 2018

Score: 93

Drink: From2020 to 2048

Tasting note: A blend of top terroirs in the two main sub-zones in Ribera, representing both the excellence of old-vine Tempranillo in the region and the mastery of Mariano García, probably the most iconic winemaker in the whole region. Powerful, utterly concentrated, lavishly aged in new oak, which will in time be tamed by the dense, perfectly ripe fruit and the sinewy and firm tannins. It is now a blockbuster, which needs decanting and a long time to open up. But it will be great, unique, in the next decade. Once again, a proof that the best Riberas are made for the next generations. 15%

Bodegas y Viñedos Monteabellón, Finca La Blanquera, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y Léon, Spain, 2016

Score: 93

Drink: From 2020 to 2027

Tasting note:Intense and well-defined aromas of blackcurrant and plums, with spicy and toasty notes. Juicy and rich, very fruity, with nice deep of flavour and persistence. It is an excellent introduction to high-end Riberas, made in a large winery with access to many vineyards. A particular interpretation of La Horra terroirs, worth comparing with Valdemonjas. Both being equally valid, this one focuses on concentration and ripeness. Quite rich and complex, this wine will recruit new Ribera lovers. 14%

Legaris, Moradillo de Roa, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y Léon, Spain, 2016

Score: 92

Drink: From 2020 to 2026

Tasting note: Remarkable and innovative example of a village wine, a classification that is not yet approved by the appellation. It is deftly made, with outstanding fruit intensity, maybe a bit on the verge of overripeness but still very attractive and with nice oak integration. It is intense and dense, very open and quite persistent. It is defined by its concentrated and barrique-ageing style but gives a certain reference to its Roa origin in its stern tannins and firm structure. I started loving Ribera with this type of wine.15%

Bodegas y Viñedos Milénico, Milénico, Ribera del Duero, Castilla y Léon, Spain, 2015

Score: 91

Drink: From 2020 to 2025

Tasting note: I selected this wine because is exemplifies a most interesting trend in Ribera: vine growers that become winemakers, the viñeros. From an area in-between Peñafiel and Horra, giving elements of both areas in the wine's profile. Very ripe fruit here, with spicy and toasty overtones, giving way to a savoury and rich character in the mouth. Open, straightforward, not particularly complex, very well defined. 14.5%

The Wine Society, Exhibition Ribera del Duero (Bodegas Bohórquez), Ribera del Duero, Castilla y Léon, Spain, 2016

Score: 91

Drink: From 2020 to 2025

Tasting note: A top, and rare, example of excellent quality at affordable price in the region. Selected by The Wine Society from Bodegas Bohórquez, a winery making great aged wines at Pesquera. Textbook quality Ribera, with obvious ageing notes, ripe blackberry fruit, a spicy touch, round and abundant tannins, juicy mouthfeel, savoury and persistent finish. Gentle and savoury, a must with lamb. To drink now and in the next five years. 14%

Translated by ICY

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