It’s not exactly controversial to say that the Ribera del Duero region produces some of the best red wine in the world. Right up there with Rioja, Ribera del Duero is known to make Spain’s best wine, and has an enviable reputation on the world stage. This was not always the case, however. For a long time, the region’s reputation was built on that of just one producer, Vega Sicilia. This esteemed winery has been the stuff of legend since 1864, but the wider Ribera del Duero region has only caught up relatively recently!
Ribera del Duero: What do I need to know?
Located in Spain’s Duero Valley, the Ribera del Duero enjoys optimal conditions for growing and producing fine wine. Protected from the sea by a mountain range and with some vineyard sites at elevations of up to 850 metres, the growing area has hot days and cool nights. This allows the Tempranillo grape, known here as Tinta Fina, to ripen ideally with high levels of colour, acidity and fruit aromas.
What does Ribera del Duero wine like?
The best Ribera del Duero wines tend to be made from 100% Tempranillo, though one famous exception is Vega Sicilia. The local Tempranillo clone has a thicker skin than in Rioja, and ripening conditions in the vineyard give the grape skins more pigment. These factors, combined with extended maceration during winemaking, give the wine more colour than, say, a Rioja.
A typical Ribera del Duero has a deep, dark colour. Expect intoxicating aromas of dark fruit and plum, with a lot of the aromatic complexity thanks to the cool nighttime growing conditions which prevent the grapes from becoming too jammy or sunburnt. On the palate, Ribera wines are powerful and full-bodied, with astringent tannins. Ribera del Duero wines tend to have shorter ageing than Rioja, and generally in new French oak barrels.
What makes Ribera del Duero wine so great?
Okay, so you’ve got virtually perfect growing conditions. The primary grape, the Tempranillo or Tinta Fina, is perfectly suited to the soil and climate. That’s all well and good, but it’s not the whole story. Many wine regions meet these conditions and yet their wines are not considered to be the world’s greatest. In order to understand what makes Ribera del Duero wine so special, we need to explore its recent history!
The 1980s and 1990s: Make Ribera del Duero great (again)
Though Vega Sicilia wine had been on the scene for over a hundred years, and enjoyed a stellar reputation, Ribera del Duero was not considered a great wine region. In the early 1980s, a new generation of dynamic winemakers descended upon the region. This, combined with external investment, led to a rapid and considerable increase in terms of both quantity and, crucially, quality. Perhaps the biggest name of all was Peter Sisseck, who made a serious splash with the launch of the first Dominio Pingus wine in 1995. Today, Pingus is considered an equal of Vega Sicilia, and they’re not alone…
3 great Ribera del Duero wines to try
Pingus and Vega Sicilia are the cream of the crop, and command the prices to match. You can still score excellent Ribera del Duero wines without taking out a second mortgage, though. Here are three of our favourites:
An elegant, fleshy and aromatic example of mature Ribera del Duero from a quality producer. With 97 points from Guía Proensa and 92 from Robert Parker, this is highly recommended.
This has spent over a year and a half in new French oak and has followed some biodynamic production methods. Complex and elegant, it boasts 97 points from Guía Peñín and 96 from Guía Proensa.
This proves that you can get a great Ribera del Duero for less than €20! Powerful and complex, and with a 92-point score from Robert Parker it punches way above its price range!
What is your favourite Ribera del Duero wine? Share your favourites in the comments below!