Ribera del Duero and Cigales, Castilla y León
DO Ribera del Duero
notes and information researched by Jairo Sanchez
Ribera del Duero is a Spanish Denominación de Origen (DO) located in the country’s northern plateau and is one of eleven ‘quality wine’ regions within the autonomous community of Castile and León. It is also one of several recognized wine-producing regions to be found along the course of the Duero river. Roughly 90 minutes drive north of Madrid, the region stretches over 149km, east to west, across the provinces of Soria, Burgos, Segovia & Valladolid.
The region is characterized by a largely flat, rocky terrain and is centered on the town of Aranda de Duero, although the most famous vineyards surround Peñafiel and Roa de Duero to the west, where the regional regulatory council or Consejo Regulador for the denominación is based. At the heart of the Ribera del Duero region is Aranda de Duero, home to just over 32,000 people.
Ribera del Duero is home to the world-famous and highly-prized Emilio Moro, Cepa 21, Vega Sicilia and Tinto Pesquera wines and is dedicated almost entirely to the production of red wine from the Tempranillo grape.Ribera del Duero was named wine region of the year 2012 by the prestigious Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Ribera del Duero DO (Denominación de Origen) is an important wine-producing area in the Castilla y León autonomous region of Spain. Its reputation is largely thanks to the high-quality of its red wines, the best examples of which are renowned throughout the world. The capital of Ribera del Duero is the historic town of Aranda de Duero, which boasts a series of antique underground cellars (bodegas) built to store wine. The interconnecting cellars reach a depth of 40ft (12m) in places. Despite a long history of winemaking, Ribera del Duero was not awarded DO status until 1982. A corresponding Consejo Regulador (wine-regulating authority) was then established to administer it.
Ribera del Duero sits on the elevated northern plateau of the Iberian Peninsula at 2800ft (800m) above sea level. It is divided by the Duero River (as its name would suggest – Ribera del Duero means ‘bank of the Duero’), which provides the local vineyards with a much-needed water supply
History. Wine has been produced in the region for thousands of years, but viticulture, as we know it probably arrived in the Ribera del Duero region with Benedictine monks from Cluny in the Burgundy region of France in the twelfth century. Ribera del Duero wine making goes back over 2,000 years as evidenced by the 66-meter mosaic of Bacchus, the god of wine that was unearthed relatively recently at Baños de Valdearados.
As in many regions of Spain Church cultivated the vine. By the 1500s wine based on Tinta del Pais had become the region’s main economic product. In the 1650s wineries in Aranda del Duero were said to have produced 6 million liters of wine. Underground tunnels were utilized for temperature control and aging of wine. In 1864 Vega Sicilia was founded with the first vines from Bordeaux being planted in the area. After being granted D.O. in 1982, due largely to the work of Alejandro Fernandez, who founded Bodega Pesquera, an explosion of development occurred shifting production from inexpensive to top quality red wine wines from Tempranillo in a more concentrated, full-bodied and fruit-driven style than most Rioja wines of the day, which were then virtually the only Spanish red wines found on export markets.
Ribera del Duero wines are enjoying greater popularity, thanks largely to the considerable interest shown in the area by experienced growers from other regions.
Geography. Ribera del Duero is located on the extensive, elevated northern plateau of the Iberian Peninsula. It occupies the southern plains of the province of Burgos, extends west into Valladolid and includes parts of Segovia and Soria provinces to the south and east, respectively. As its name suggests, the region follows the course of the Duero river for approximately 115 km upstream from Valladolid and is around 35 km at its widest. The region is located around the younger stretches of the river, which later passes through the nearby Toro and Rueda regions before traversing the famous Portuguese growing areas of Douro and Porto, where it drains into the Atlantic Ocean
Geological Features. Tertiary sediments, consisting of gently lenticular layers of silty or clayey sand, alternate with layers of limestone, marl and chalky concretions. The Duero valley, formed during the Miocene period, has a flat, rocky, gently undulating terrain, ranging from 911 m down to 750 m above sea level.
Vineyards occupy around 120 km² of the region, most of which are situated in the province of Burgos, with around 5 km² in Valladolid and 6 km² in Soria.
Climate: The Ribera del Duero has moderate to low rainfall (450 mm per year) and is exposed to quite extreme climatic conditions; long, dry summers with temperatures of up to 40 °C are followed by hard winters during which temperatures may fall as low as -18 °C. There are also marked variations in temperature within each season. The climate is continental and Mediterranean, with more than 2,400 hours of annual sunlight.
The majority of plantings are sited within the valley and thus protected from extreme weather. Due to the high altitude, 2,300 to 2,750 feet, nighttime temperatures are much lower than daytime temperatures allowing grapes to maintain essential natural acidity. Frost in late Autumn and early Spring is a worry in this area and while rare temperatures can drop as low as -5 degree Fahrenheit.
Soil: The main growing area is made up of the high plains, steep slopes, shallow slopes and riverbanks. Most vines are planted on the shallow slopes where chalk and limestone predominate in the soil making up to 50% of the total. Clay, marl and sandy soils are also found in the region.
Wine Production. Wines produced in the Ribera del Duero DO derive almost exclusively from red grapes. The Albillo grape is the only white variety grown, white wines being mostly destined for local consumption. The vast majority of production is dedicated to Tinto Fino (local name for Tempranillo), the dominant red varietal in the northern half of the Spanish peninsula. Tinto Fino is often, but not always complemented with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot, although the famous Tinto Pesquera, grown by Alejandro Fernández in Pesquera de Duero, is a 100% Tempranillo varietal wine. The introduction of Pesquera’s 100% Tinto Fino wine was, at the time, somewhat controversial, as the considered benchmark Vega Sicilia wines traditionally blended Tinto Fino with such Bordeaux varietals as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.
There are many similarities between Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Whereas the wines are quite distinctive as a result of significant differences in terroir, both regions produce wines selected for long aging with highly complex vinification procedures, producing intense, extremely long-lived wines emanating from largely limestone soils. Wines are classified as much for their longevity as their grape quality, and Ribera del Duero produces some extremely well-aging wines. The aging requirements for Ribera del Duero are the same used in Rioja. Wines labelled as “Crianza” must age two years with 12 months in oak. “Reserva” wines must be aged at least three years with at least 12 months in oak. The “Gran Reserva” labelled wines must spend 5 years aging prior to release, two being in oak.
The town of Pesquera is particularly noted for its wines and the area around La Horra (another small town in the region) is respected by locals for its consistent quality. Viña Sastre is one of the region’s more respected wine producers and the world-renowned Vega Sicilia easily the most famous. Vega Sicilia’s more eminent customers include Prince Charles of the British royal family, while Alex Ferguson‘s favourite wine is Pesquera. Other notable bodegas include, Dominio de Pingus, Bodegas Alion, and Hacienda Monasterio, all of which lie along The Golden Mile, Spain.
Grapes: Tinta del Pais, the local clone of Tempranillo, makes up 85% of plantings in Ribera del Duero. While Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec are allowed grapes in the blend, although not permitted to be planted in new vineyards. Garnacha makes of the remainder of the vineyards along with Albillo, a white grape traditionally used to make rose when blended with Tinta del Pais. Vines vary in training between bush vines and wire trained, with the wire trained vines pruned to allow 16 bunches per plant. .
The Duero River becomes the Douro (the famous Port river) in Portugal. Ribera del Duero is famous for its red wines. Several wine estates in this area have sparked a trend of attracting producers interested in producing high-quality red wines
At more than 800m above sea level it’s among the highest wine producing areas in Europe. Steeped in history and romance, the Ribera del Duero landscape can often appear rugged and stark, yet it’s home to some of the most acclaimed wines in the world. The climate can be harsh at times with temperature fluctuations of more than 20 degrees in a 24-hour period. We also have relatively low rainfall and high sun exposure which puts the vines under considerable stress, making them work harder for every drop of moisture leading to better quality grapes and high quality wines.
The region’s inland location, coupled with the sheltering effects of the nearby Sierra de la Demanda and Sierra de Guadaramma mountain ranges, creates an extreme climate in which hot and dry summers are followed by harsh winters. In the growing season, the high daytime temperatures are combined with considerably cooler nights – a condition which assists in the optimum accumulation of aromas and other chemical compounds (phenolics) in the grape.
The Tempranillo grape
Tempranillo, or tinto fino as it’s known locally, is the predominant grape variety in the Ribera del Duero and ever since the region gained recognition in the 1980s it has produced some of Spains most complex, deeply coloured and fruity wines. Highly tannic, alcohol rich and full bodied red wines are the hallmark of the Ribera del Duero region.
The Ribera del Duero Denominación de Origen (DO or appellation) has four official classifications of wine. Most wineries, including use these classifications as standard. These are:
Joven: A term applied to a young wine; typically these wines see little or no time in oak & is released as a fresh & fruity wine.
Crianza: A wine labeled ‘crianza’ has spent at least one year in an oak cask and sold immediately.
Reserva: A ‘reserva’ wine has been aged for a minimum of 2 years; one of which in an oak barrel before being available to the public.
Gran Reserva: These wines are aged for 2 years in an oak cask and a further three years in the bottle.
Recently a fifth classification has crept into our every day awareness called Barrica or Roble. The Barrica / Roble wine has been aged for a minimum of 4 months in oak barrels giving sweeter tannins to young wine.
Around mid October the Ribera del Duero region goes to harvest (or Vendimia as it’s known here). The Denominación de Origen test and analyze throughout the early part of October and sometimes even late September to determine the exact moment when the harvest can begin. While the region is quietly working hard behind the scenes for the rest of the year the harvest season can be frenetic as there is a very short window to harvest the grapes before the regional heavy frosts begin again.
Alternating layers of limestone, marl and chalk under silt and clay topsoil add complexity and character to Ribera del Duero wines.
The leading local producer is Bodegas Vega Sicilia, which took the wine world by storm with its ‘Unico’ label. Pesquera is another renowned brand, created by the region’s best-known winemaker, Alejandro Fernández. The success of Vega Sicilia and Pesquera quickly turned local producers away from bulk rosé and selling to co-operatives and focused their attentions on making quality reds. Other prominent producers include Dominio de Pingus and Emilio Moro.
Nowadays, Ribera del Duero is almost entirely devoted to red wine, with Tempranillo the most widely planted grape variety. It is known locally either as Tinto Fino or Tinta del Pais and produces wines which are deeply colored, with a firm tannin structure and complex aromas of mulberry and blackberry. Most of the top examples age gracefully for years. According to DO regulations, Tempranillo must make up a minimum of 75% of all vinos tintos (red wines). The balance is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec (varieties that were introduced by Vega Sicilia well over a century ago) or up to 5% of Albillo or Garnacha (Grenache). Garnacha is used for most rosé wines, and a few wineries employ small quantities of Bordeaux varieties in their red blends. Albillo is the only white grape grown in Ribera del Duero, producing wines for local consumption that don’t qualify for the DO, or in minor quantities as a softener for heavy reds.
Cigales DO is located on the banks of the River Pisuerga. Valladolid, Cigales’ main city, lies at the heart of the Castilla y Leon autonomous community of Spain. It was awarded DO status in 1991. Despite the relative recentness of the DO, this region has a long and proud history of wine making and its landscape is adorned with castles and other relics of the past. Wine-making dates back many centuries, having quenched the thirsts of the nobility and religious disciples who lived in the many castles and monasteries that dot the countryside.
Cigales sits in the Duero trough and straddles the Duero’s second largest tributary, the Pisuerga, which provides much-needed water to this otherwise dry region (annual rainfall is around 15 inches/400mm). Like other areas of Castilla y León, Cigales experiences a continental climate, with marked variations in seasonal and day temperatures. Summer temperatures of 104F (40C) and drought are not uncommon and severe winter frosts are a constant threat. The region’s soils largely consist of sand and chalk over clay and loam. Most vineyards sit at an altitude of 2300ft (750m).
This is a region now mostly known for its rosados of Tinto del Pais (Tempranillo) and Garnacha, with quality red wines made from the same grapes. A small amount of white wine production is produced from Verdejo and Albillo.
Severe heat experienced during the growing season ensures that the Tinta del Pais (Tempranillo) and Garnacha (Grenache) grapes achieve maximum ripeness, producing the aromatic, lively and mostly dry rosé wines (rosado), for which the region is best known. Interesting red wines are also increasingly being produced, employing the same grape varieties. Although winemakers have started experimenting with international varieties; Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, which have been enjoying growing success in neighboring regions Toro (red varieties) and Rueda (white varieties).
Cigales Top Wines (Jancis Robinson)
Sinforiano Vaquero Reserva 2005
Museum Real Reserva 2004
Valdelosfrailes, Pago de las Costanas 2003
Cesar Principe 2000 and 2005
The Wine: Museum Real Reserva 2008
Wine Maker: Finca Museum, Bodegas Museum , Cigales D.O. Castilla y Leon
Classification: DO, Reserva, from Cigales, Spain
Grape: Tempranillo, 60-100 years old vines
Vintage: 2008 APV: 14%
Shelf Live: 2015
Serving Temperature: 17C
Price: $25+ Shipping ($7)
Store: Hops and Grapes, Internet Order
Pairings: Meat, Grill, Heavy Menus, Aged Cheeses, Pasta
Local Availability: None. Available only in NJ, NY, CN, CA and by Internet
Ratings: 90+ Robert Parker
WS. This focused red offers crisp cherry and fresh herb flavors, with accents of vanilla and smoke. Features light tannins and fresh acidity. RP. (2006) This is a Highly complex wine with intense cherry flavor and early petroleum aromas. The 2006 Museum Real Reserva was sourced from 60- to 100-year-old vines with one-third of the wine aged for 20 months in French oak. It, too, displays some elegance to complement the wine’s fragrant bouquet and savory flavors. It will benefit from 2-3 years of additional cellaring and offer prime drinking from 2013 to 2021. The nose was very interesting with earthy red fruits and vanilla along with hints of spices and herbs.
The flavors were more black fruits along with currants, licorice and chocolate. The oakiness and acidity were well balanced. Great finish with cassis. Evinces a whole spectrum of spicy notes to the nose, the result of its ageing in oak, combined with aromas of jam and ripe fruits. It is subtle and enveloping, with smoky cigar tones which evolve towards notes of very ripe red fruits. Powerful, meaty and voluminous, the ripeness of the fruit has polished the tannins and overall it is velvety, tasty and expressive, with a magnificent mouthfeel and a very long finish.
Vintner: Similar to Chateauneuf-du-Pape but with concrete underneath.