Ribera del Duero: “Life is too Short to Drink Bad Wine”
Ribera del Duero Grand tasting, New York February 23, 2010
With two ballrooms full of purple stained teeth as far as the eye could see, I set out to taste some of the beautiful wines of Ribera del Duero at the recent Grand Tasting event in New York. At my count, there were 85 Vineyards represented, with each showing multiple wines. In addition to the sheer volume of vineyards present and wines being poured, Ribera del Duero wines are big, and it’s easy to quickly fall prey to palate fatigue. It’s too bad I had to break up my tastings with a little bit of lomo, Spanish cheese and Spanish almonds.
A Primer on Ribera del Duero
Before we go into the goods, I always think it is a good idea to know what we’re tasting. Ribera del Duero is located in Spain’s northern plateau. It’s not too far from Madrid. Ribera literally means “river bank” and runs horizontal to the Duero River Valley, hence the name. The soils range from alluvial with sand (closer to the river) to alternating layers of limestone, marl and chalk (at the higher elevations, some vineyards are as high as 3,100 feet above sea level). The region has very hot summers with cold winters, which benefit the grapes.
Varietal: Tempranillo is the primary varietal used for Ribera del Duero. Tempranillo ripens early (temprano means “early”). Sometimes, it is known as Tinto Fino or Tinta del Pais. With Tempranillo, expect flavors such as black plums, cherries and licorice.
Ribera del Duero is a D.O. (Denominación de Origen). This means wine laws highly regulate the density, yields, pruning, alcohol levels and labeling. Expect a certain level of quality similar to that of A.O.C. regulated wines in France.
Critical vocabulary for this region: How can you tell how old the wine is?
- Joven – Joven literally means “young.” It is wine, which may or may not have spent time in a cask and it is bottled in the year following the vintage, for immediate release.
- Crianza – These wines must have aged for at least 2 years, with a minimum of six months of that time spent in casks.
- Reserva – Typically from better vintages, these wines are aged for three years, with a minimum of one year of that time in casks.
- Gran Riserva – Wines of exceptional vintages, Gran Riserva wines are aged for five years, with at least two years of that time in oak, followed by bottle aging.
Drum roll please… here were some of my faves…
Bodegas Félix Callejo, S.A.
This was one of my absolute favorite finds at the event, with some of the Crianza wines getting 92/93 ratings in the past with a low $20 handle. I spent some time with Cristina Callejo Calvo, their Export Manager and member of the family. Cristina shared that their goal is to “bring out the individual character of their vineyards, with the highest regard for terroir.” All of their wines listed below are 100% Tempranillo.
2004 Gran Callejo Gran Riserva: Wine Advocate 90, $75, cherries, cardoman, some coffee at the end
2005 Félix Callejo Selección de Viñedos de la Familia: RP 97+, $115, The song “Lilac Wine” came to mind as I tasted lilac with some dark chocolate after notes. This was really tasty and elegant stuff.
2006 Callejo Riserva: RP 91, $45, cherries, coffee, elegant. I really enjoyed.
2007 Callejo Crianza: WS 94, $30, cherries with some caramel, tannins and ripe fruit
Finca Torremilanos, Bodegas Peñalba López S.L.*
With dancing eyes and boundless enthusiasm for life, Ricardo Peñalba, head winemaker for Peñalba López shared, “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” When we spoke about their viticulture practices, he said “I have all of these hippies from France come to work the vineyards.” Peñalba López is adamant about being organic and they are experimenting with being biodynamic. Paramount to all, they want to ensure that the terroir is reflected. “If I add yeast – then why be organic? Yeast interferes. Terroir is the most important thing. It is about the soil, the grapes, the region. I can’t stand it when people get too technical. One of the best architects I know shared the wisdom of his 85-year-old father with me. ‘I know three things that can ruin you in life (1) women – that’s the most pleasant of the 3, (2) gambling – that’s the most fun and (3) getting too technical.'”
2005 Torremilanos Crianza: (90% Tempranillo, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot) ST 90, $30, blackberries, dried fruit, herbal undertones
2005 Torre Albeniz Reserva – click here to purchase: (97% Tempranillo, 3% Albillo) ST 92/WS 91, $50, tangy, silky, spicy, with currants with some cinnamon. (Named after Ricardo Peñalba’s mother.)
2006 Cyclo – click here to purchase: (90% Tempranillo, 5% Gamacha Tinta, 5% Albillo) ST 91, $50 cherry coke and fresh pepper (This was Ricardo Peñalba’s current favorite.)
Bodegas Condado de Haza, S.L.
2001 Alenza Gran Riserva: (100% Tempranillo) WS 92, $100, Named after the winemaker’s wife, and produced from their riper vintages. This was such a treasure.
Bodegas Los Astrales, S.L.
2006 Astrales – click here to purchase: (100% Tempranillo) ST 91/WS 92, $50, silky, spicy with some floral, blood orange and wild herb notes; Burgundy-like
Bodegas Arrocal, S.L.
2005 Máximo de Arrocal Gran Riserva: (100% Tempranillo) 93 ST, $100, Needs to breathe a bit, but for the Bordeaux lovers, this one will appeal.
2009 Rosa de Arrocal: (50% Tempranillo, 50% Albillo) $8, A nice rosé, with lots of strawberries. Perfect for a hot summer night.
Bodegas Emilio Moro, S.L.
2005 Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus de Valderramiro Ribera del Duero – click here to purchase: ST 94/WS 93, $168, dark berries with exotic spices from the east, tasty
2005 Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus Ribera del Duero – click here to purchase :ST 92+/WS 90, $62, raspberries and blackberries with some espresso
2005 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero – click here to purchase: ST 90/WS 92, $29, cherries with bitter chocolate
2006 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero – click here to purchase: ST 92/RP 92, $22
Viña Arnaiz, S.A.
2004 Viña Arnaiz Crianza – click here to purchase: ST 88/RP 89, sexy cherry coke
I have to give a shout out to Despaña, a specialty Spanish food store in New York. I love this place! They were present at the event with plenty of lomo to go around. As I said before, give me a plate of Pata Negra (Jamón Ibérico) and lomo, along with a great Rioja or Ribera del Duero, and I could be 100% content to watch the world go by.
* Mr. Peñalba prefers the name of the Estate precede the name of the producer.
Photo provided by Mathias Berenger.
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