Ribera del Duero, Spain

Just north of the dead centre of the Iberian Peninsula, due west of the cultural capital Barcelona and due north of the actual capital of Madrid sits a region high on the central Spanish Meseta (tablelands) called the Ribera del Duero. At first glance, this arid, harsh landscape doesn’t seem the most hospitable place, and it can’t be denied that growing grapes here is a tough existence- the growing season is short, and the temperature changes extreme, from a bitter -18 degrees in the winter to a scorching 40 degrees in the summer. Sitting a dizzying 850 metres above sea level and being totally landlocked, the region is incredibly dry- despite a fairly generous 450mm rain per year, the vast majority of this falls in the winter months- not very helpful on those scorching summer days! The relief for both vines and vineyard workers comes at night however- once the sun sets, the lack of cloud cover means the heat from this desert-like plateau escapes in minutes, and overnight temperatures drop significantly. In this extreme climate, few crops would grow, however wine grapes are not your average crop! They thrive in this area; the lack of rain and resultant humidity means the region has next to no risk from disease, and the winter rains are stored deep in the soils, which are made up of layers of silty or clayey sand, alternated with layers of limestone, marl and chalky concretions, which the vines dig deep into to draw moisture from. The high diurnal (day to night) temperature variation also helps to build bright fruit aromas and flavours, whilst retaining the naturally high acidity of the grapes, and the hot days give the fruit rich, ripe tannins and the resultant ageing potential.

Red wine is king in this area. The most grown variety is known as Tinto Fino, which is known elsewhere as Tempranillo. This version of the grape has adapted to the hot summers, cold winters and constant lack of water. It produces firmly tannic, deeply-coloured wines which age for decades. The region also allows the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, which were introduced to the region 130 years ago, with cuttings from Bordeaux, brought across by arguably the region’s most famous producer, Vega Sicilia. The region also produces a dry, fresh and crunchy Rose made from Garnacha (a.k.a. Grenache)- a perfect match for a 40 degree summer day!

The life source of entire region is the Duero River; in fact the whole region is named for the river, translating to Banks of the Duero. The river itself has an industrious vinous life; it starts in the Duruelo de la Sierra mountains just west of Zaragoza (pronounced Tharagotha), then feeds the Ribero del Duero region for 115km, then through the Rueda and Toro wine regions, after which it forms the border between Portugal and Spain for 112km before entering Portugal (where it changes its name to the Douro River), winding through the world-famous Port vineyards and town of Vila Nova de Gaia and then empties into the North Atlantic Ocean at the city of Porto. Quite a trip!

Whilst this region can trace its vinous history back over 2000 years, it only rose to global wine fame in the early 1980s, with the work of famous winemaker Alejandro Fernández, who was instrumental in the creation of the Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero, granted in 1982. Fernández gained international acclaim for his Tinto Pesquera wines, which launched a never-before-seen interest in the region and investment in new vineyards- since the establishment of the D.O., 200 new wineries have sprung up! Today the region boasts several world-class producers alongside Pesquera, including Vega Sicilia, Dominio de Pingus and Bodegas Alion. This investment in research of the best regions and best clones has created some of Spain’s best wines- although they take a while to evolve, but that’s something Wine Ark clients must be used to!

Mark Faber
Wine Sales Manager