Ribera del Duero, one of the most important wine regions in Spain, and according to Pedro Ballesteros MW, Ribera is Spain’s answer to Burgundy and the cradle of some of the best wines in the world. Here, terroir is everything…
Ribera del Duero is a Denomination of Origin in North Central Spain that includes vineyards located in Castilla y León, within the Duero river basin, about 115 km long and 35 km wide, located at the confluence of the provinces of Soria, Burgos, Segovia, and Valladolid.
The history of winemaking in Ribera del Duero began with the Phoenicians thirty centuries ago when they came to the Spanish coasts to trade their products and realized the enormous potential of these lands on the banks of the Duero River to produce wine from its strains brought from Lebanon and Syria.
The story continues with the Romans who made this “juice” famous throughout the empire by giving their legions to drink. Later, in the 12th century, the monastic orders aimed to regulate the harvests and select the vines to collect quality crops.
Wine became an essential aspect of Ribera’s cultural and economic development facilitating trade with other areas of Spain and resulting in the first quality regulations, the “Ordinances of Castilla y León,” in the 15th century.
Ribera wines were highly regarded for export at the height of the Spanish Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in more recent times the founding of Bodega Vega Sicilia in 1864 heralded the quality credentials of the region before the formal establishment of the D.O.
Officially, the Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero was founded on July 21, 1982, by wine producers and growers who were determined to promote their wines' quality and enforce regulatory regulations standards.
But...what makes Ribera del Duero wine so special?
There is no simple answer since many factors intervene, such as geography, climate, soil, grapes, definitely the terroir but also its culture and tradition.
To better understand why Ribera del Duero was awarded as the Best Wine Region in the World in 2012 (awarded by the magazine 'Wine Enthusiast Magazine), we are going to make a summary with the 4 most important facts.
1. Climate and Altitude
The Ribera climate is characterized by extremes. Ribera del Duero is unique and ideally suited to growing quality red grapes.
The Mediterranean with Continental influences.
The region has the highest average elevation in Europe for growing red wine grapes, hot summers, cold winters, and a short growing season.
A large thermal oscillation from -20 to 42º C.
Minimal rainfall, 400-500 average mm / year.
Vineyards are planted between approximately 720 to 1100 m above sea level.
The consequence of all this is the extraordinary quality of the grape: small in size, thick skin, and perfect, slow and late ripening.
Soil conditions in Ribera are near-perfect, with a great diversity of soils extending from the banks of the Duero to the steepest slopes.
Closest to the river: soils are alluvial with sand and reddish clay.
At higher elevations: alternating limestone, marl, and even chalk are notable features, even with many outstanding plantings on limestone sites.
It is incredible how many articles can be found on the Internet about the complexity of the soil in Ribera del Duero and how it shapes the character of this astonishing wine!
The Tempranillo grape, an early-ripening variety, (from “Temprano” meaning “Early”), is also known in the region as Tinta del País or Tinto Fino.
Tempranillo is the main variety, which gives the characteristic color, aroma, and body to the red wines of the Ribera del Duero and it is ideally suited to Ribera’s shorter growing season in extreme conditions.
To a lesser extent, other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Garnacha Tinta are also cultivated. The main authorized white grape variety is Albillo Mayor.
An important fact that every wine lover should know is that the grapes in Ribera del Duero are treated with great care since 80% of the harvest is by hand, thus preserving the essence and terroir of the Ribera del Duero in each vintage.
4. Denomintaion of Origin
What does it mean that Ribera del Duero is a Denomination of Origin? What advantage does it have for consumers?
DO. Ribera del Duero adheres to and closely monitors strict quality controls. During harvest, each winery is assigned a surveyor by the Consejo Regulador of D.O. Ribera del Duero, the governing body that oversees all aspects of the viticultural and winemaking process. The Council regulates the following:
The grape origins.
Varieties used and the percentages allowed.
Vineyard practices including pruning, density, and yields.
In practice, the wineries consistently outperform the high standards set by the Council to feature quality production. Therefore, the Ribera del Duero wines can boast of highly recognized quality.
A Unique Wine
The Ribera del Duero’s Terroir produces well-balanced red wines in sweetness, color, and acidity and yields fresh and fruity characteristics with appealing aromas such as black plums, cherry, and licorice.
This is a small generic tasting note of the Ribera del Duero wines. A Master of Wine could write a whole page describing its flavor, complexity, and elegance, but even so, we would not get an idea of what it means to taste a Ribera.
Therefore, the next time you have the opportunity to pick a wine, choose a Ribera and travel to Spain with your palate enjoying the Ribera wine as the Phoenicians do.