Explore the Ribera del Duero
The Ribera del Duero lies both south and west of Rioja on a much higher elevated plateau, only two hours north of Madrid, in Castilla y Leon. The region sprawls for 100km from east to west along the N-122 trunk road, traversing the provinces of Soria, Segovia, Burgos and Valladolid. At its heart is a low valley, 2km wide, with sweeping plains planted with wheat and vines gently rising to flat-topped, sparsely forested hills on either side. The region is divided by the Duero River (Ribera del Duero literally means ‘bank of the Duero’), which gives local vineyards easy access to an ongoing water supply. The riverbanks and low-lying land with water lying close to the surface are called campiña (countryside) and terrazas (terraces); the shallow slopes above them, which are among the best for vines, are called laderas (sides), and steeper slopes called cuestas (slopes). Ribera del Duero is a most unlikely area to produce great wine. The growing season is short and intense. Bud break for vines is the latest in Europe, frosts in May are a constant danger, and frosts in September are less common, but still hazardous. The region is a bleak landscape of flat-topped rocky heights on the northern meseta of Spain, with an average altitude of 700-800 meters. The fact that out of this unpromising land truly fine wines have sprung is due to the vision of one man, Eloy Lecanda y Chaves. In 1864, Lecanda inherited a property, now called Vega Sicilia, on the banks of the Duero between Peñafiel and Valladolid, and set about transforming a few hundred hectares of pine forest and scrubby fields into a model agricultural estate. He imported the best vines from Bordeaux and used the most up-to-date techniques both in the vineyards and the winery. Eloy Lecanda was a visionary rather than an astute businessman; he went bust but the estate was saved, and then a decade or two later, and thanks to his initial efforts, began producing wines of astonishing heady perfume, depth and longevity. In 1982, Ribera del Duero became a D.O. (denominación de origen), a move inspired by the quality of Vega Sicilia, but promoted by Alejandro Fernández of Pesquera. Robert Parker took a liking to Pesquera, and Ribera del Duero was suddenly not just on the map, but shooting to stardom. In 1982, there were only 14 estates in Ribera del Duero; now there are more than 300. Ribera del Duero owes its success to a combination of factors. Firstly, its terroir of schistous sub-soil bears remarkable similarity to other famous wine-making regions such as the Douro and Priorato. Secondly, its microclimate, with its high altitude and hot days and cool nights (a phenomenon known as diurnal variation), ensures ripeness while preserving the vivacity of the fruit, aromatic flavors, and refreshing acidity. Thirdly, it has been blessed with an exceptional native grape, Tempranillo (also known as Tinto del País or Tinto Fino). This yields superb, complex red wines that are delicious when young but also have the capacity to age into magnificent Gran Reservas. Where the finest wines in Ribera come from is open to debate. One undisputed top terroir lies in the western portion of the region, close to the Duero River. Called the “Golden Mile,” this area is anchored by legendary Vega Sicilia, and it’s best known for its mix of Tempranillo-enhancing soils that range from white chalk to iron-rich clay and crystallized limestone. Another excellent subzone is situated in the province of Burgos, around the towns of Roa, Anguix and La Horra. This area is known for highly concentrated, structured wines, perhaps more so than the Golden Mile. Along with Rioja, Ribera del Duero is the only Spanish wine region that utilizes crianza, reserva and gran reserva guidelines for the aging and labeling of its wines. Crianzas are aged for 2 years before release with at least 1 year in oak barrels, Reservas must be 3 years old with at least 1 year spent in oak, and finally Gran Reservas must be 5 years old before going on sale, with two years spent in barrel. Tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero tends to be more robust than that from Rioja with typically higher alcohol and riper, darker fruits. The wines can be denser and textured, with assertive flavors of dark cherry, black berries, and sometimes cassis. While oak ageing plays as prominent a role in Ribera del Duero as it does in Rioja, it is the dense, concentrated fruit that carries Ribera’s wines.
Cuisine in the area places more of an emphasis on meat, with lamb playing a large roll. Few food and wine pairings can top a delicious Ribera del Duero matched with grilled lamb chops. The wines pair nicely with medium to strong-flavored semi-hard and hard cheeses (Manchego), and dishes with tomatoes and tomato sauces. The wines of Ribera del Duero pair beautifully with regional dishes such as lechal al horno- young suckling lamb slow-roasted in an open oven, enslada de jamon con peras-baby arugula, shaved Serrano ham, d’Anjou pear, Manchego cheese, and vinaigrette, caldo de temporada-Galician style pumpkin-chicken soup, smoked bacon, chorizo, potato & broccoli rabe, or costilla al vino tinto-Ribera del Duero braised short ribs confit potatoes & crispy leeks.
2014 HACIENDA MONASTERIO, RIBERA DEL DUERO $39.00
Over twenty years ago, a young Dane named Peter Sisseck had a crazy idea that he wanted to become a winemaker. The seed of the idea was perhaps planted by his uncle, Peter Vinding-Diers, who was an established producer in the Bordeaux region. Time passed and Peter studied in Bordeaux and worked with his Uncle, amassing vineyard and cellar experience. Restless, and looking to expand his knowledge, Peter also sought to broaden his horizons. Uncle Peter suggested his travelling to Spain to assess a project in the relatively unknown Ribera del Duero. Peter arrived in Spain in 1993 to manage a new project, Hacienda Monasterio. Hacienda Monasterio is one of the great names in Ribera del Duero. Peter joined the estate shortly after its inception, and while he has pushed the envelope in the DO with his own wines from Dominio de Pingus, he’s remained at the helm of Hacienda Monasterio: overseeing the purchase and planting of new vineyards, grafting over existing vines to the local Tempranillo, Tinto Fino, and incrementally improving vinifcations by championing native fermentations, experimenting with whole clusters and employing larger 500L French oak barrels for aging. Located close to the villages of Pesquera de Valbuena del Duero, on the so-called Golden Mile, the estate covers 170 hectares, with plots of Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec complementing the Tinto Fino. Hacienda Monasterio only uses grapes that come from their own surrounding vineyards which currently total 95 hectares. Although up to 12 different soils have been identified in the property, all of them share a chalky character. Limestone retains water and adds a distinctive character to the wines. Vines are planted across a south-facing slope to ensure good ripeness in such an extreme region where frosts are not uncommon in September right before the start of the harvest. Sisseck inspired himself in the wines of Vega Sicilia and Pesquera to make the wines of Hacienda Monasterio: “The first thing I did when I arrived here was to taste as many wines as I could. Unsurprisingly, Vega Sicilia was the most complex, yet very classic in style. Pesquera, on the other hand, wasn’t that complex but offered freshness and modernity. I finally decided to use the grape varieties grown by Vega Sicilia and to shorten aging times, just as Alejandro Fernandez did at Pesquera; but instead of using American oak, we introduced French barrels”. Having remained at the vanguard of the evolution of the DO of Ribera del Duero since its founding in 1991, Hacienda Monasterio continues to innovate and seek new ways to make wines that embody the region’s potential for power as well as elegance and finesse. In the cellar, Peter has started employing increasingly higher proportions of stems, is moving towards a gentler maceration, and is employing larger and more seasoned French oak barrels. The 2014 Monasterio is a blend of primarily Tempranillo with about 10- 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and a smaller portion of Merlot. The grapes were hand harvested followed by a strict selection sorting out only the best bunches. The bunches were then partially de-stemmed, followed by whole- berry fermentation with natural yeasts in tank, and a 20-day maceration. The wine is then aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, 30% new. The 2014 Crianza offers aromas of red currants and blueberries complemented by hints of allspice. These aromas follow through on the palate with the addition of toasted plum, mulberry and hints of milk chocolate. The wine has impressive concentration, yet is kept in check with balancing acidity. Dominated by Tempranillo, the additional 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the blend bring a different dimension adding greater depth and richness of flavor.
2015 DOMINIO DE PINGUS “Ψ PSI”, RIBERA DEL DUERO $38.00
Dominio de Pingus was founded in the mid-1990’s by the aforementioned visionary Danish winemaker Peter Sisseck. While planting and developing Monasterio, he began to dream about the old vines he saw dotted around the Ribera del Duero landscape. By the 1995 vintage, Peter had found several ancient vineyards that inspired him to make his own wine. He called it "Pingus," after his childhood nickname. Peter saw the potential for the old bush-vines that were still farmed in Ribera del Duero, and within a few years, Peter was producing wines that became some of the most coveted in the world. Would a Danish fellow who learned the wine craft in Bordeaux be able to figure out how to make wine in rough-and-tumble Ribera del Duero? Wine critic Robert Parker thought so, definitively declaring Pingus’ rookie offering as “one of the greatest and most exciting wines I have ever tasted." While working on Hacienda Monasterio and developing Pingus, Peter had established a network of growers with interesting terroirs and old vines. These were the old bush-vine holdings of the senior citizens of Ribera del Duero (old peasant guys in the main); heritage genetics of great quality, but which had been making un-inspired co-op plonk for decades. In conjunction with winemaker Pablo Rubio, Peter re-fashioned the viticulture of these old vines, and rejuvenated the old guys’ relationship with their gnarled old plots. These growers lacked the tools, capital and vision to make wine that was truly “theirs.” PSI was created as a “neo-cooperative” venture between the partners and many of the best independent grape growers in Ribera del Duero. Peter and Pablo currently organize seven villages to assemble PSI. These villages radiate south, north, and east towards Soria from la Horra/Aranda. The vines grow at 830-920 meters on clay-lime and sandy-gravel soils. From these seven villages, they work 200 hectares scattered across 1200 plots (averaging less than 0.2 hectares), organized as 17 separate ‘harvests’. The Psi project (Peter’s initials make up the Greek letter Psi ) is very different from either Flor or Pingus. With Psi, Peter wished to capture and protect the very essence of the Ribera del Duero, whilst adding a philanthropic touch for good measure. He therefore began by working alongside the farmers in an advisory capacity, encouraging moves to organic viticulture, which he rewarded by paying a premium. He pays three or four times the going average rate for his grapes. Over the years these farmers have developed a deep trust and respect for Peter, who has a great deal of passion for Ribera del Duero, as well as a profound sense of gratitude. Psi has become much more than a wine: it is a philanthropic endeavor to preserve the traditions and way of life built up over decades, and is a means to give something back to the region. The 2015 Psi is subtle, delicate, and compelling. It offers fresh raspberry, incense and rose pastille aromas, with a spicy nuance. It has excellent structure with youthful tannins and tangy acidity, and finishes with a hint of minerality and lingering red fruit flavors.
2012 BODEGAS LA HORRA “CORIMBO”, RIBERA DEL DUERO $33.00
Using the experience and knowledge gained in La Rioja by the iconic Rioja producer Bodegas Roda, Bodegas La Horra was created in the Ribera del Duero in 1999. After years of research into Spanish regions suited to the cultivation of Tempranillo, the Denominación de Origen of La Horra in Burgos was chosen, not only for its history of viticulture dating back to pre-Roman times, but also for the characteristics of its Tempranillo, and its potential to hold true to the philosophy of Bodegas Roda. The winery is located in the municipality of La Horra in Burgos, on a farm of 20 acres situated between pine forests in the south of Monte Villalobón, two kilometres west of the village. Bodgas Roda partnered with the Balbás Family, who own some of the most coveted old bush vines of Tinta del País vineyard sites in the village. Mario Rotllant, co-owner of Bodegas Roda and La Horra explained: "a few years ago we decided to start a new adventure to get deeper into the tempranillo from Ribera del Duero. We had the knowledge and experience of Bodegas Roda with this variety, its technical capacity and distribution network. Always with our philosophy to make wines with aging potential characterized by its elegance, and to be enjoyed from the time it is sold.” Bodegas La Horra’s 50 hectares of vineyards are cultivated with maximum respect for the environment, following the guidelines for organic viticulture. The aim is to make wines that are a faithful reflection of the terroir of Ribera del Duero in Burgos, bringing elegance and freshness to the characteristic strength of the region's tinta del país. As they did at Roda, Bodegas La Horra has invested substantially in Research and Development in the area. In 2013, they launched a project called BioGerm, which will attempt to preserve the genetic heritage of Tinta del Pais. They are creating a gene bank with cuttings of hundreds of different biotypes of the grape, hoping to combat the planting of monocrops made up of just one single clone, therefore creating vineyards that are more diverse, more disease resistant, and, in the end, vineyards that produce a more unique wine. Sharing the technical team of Bodegas Roda, who work alongside the Balbás brothers, Bodegas La Horra produces two wines; Corimbo and Corimbo 1. Ten vineyards older than 50 years-old are used for Corimbo 1, 30 vineyards of 25 years-old are used for Corimbo. The 2012 Corimbo is 100% Tempranillo from the Burgos part of Ribera del Duero (La Horra, Roa, Sotillo, Gumiel). It was fermented in stainless-steel tanks, went through malolactic fermentation in French oak vats, and aged in some 10-20% new oak barrels, mostly French, but approximately 20% American oak. After 14 months, the wine was transferred from barriques to oak vats where they rested for another six months. The nose shows red fruits and nicely integrated oak, with a spiciness that shows not only the usual vanilla and cinnamon, but also some more exotic aromas reminiscent of wild flowers and Mediterranean herbs. The Corimbo clearly shows the profile of the 2012 growing season, and the wine is more floral and a little lighter than the 2011, with good freshness and is a more approachable wine. The wine is balanced, fresh and with medium body.