Located in the geographical heart of the Iberian Peninsula, Ribera del Duero arguably produces the best tempranillo based wines in Spain and some of the best wines in the world. Ribera has been endowed with a rich wine making tradition that began over 2000 years ago when Bacchus was the god of wine and, today, flourishes as one of the most recognizable wine regions in the world. Ribera wines are unique. They are flamboyant like a skilled flamenco dancer yet direct and decisive like a judge slamming down a gavel.
Ribera del Duero claims tempranillo as its king. However, this noble grape is exposed to the most un-kingly and dramatically harsh conditions; plenty of sun, little rain, extreme diurnal temperature changes between day and night and incredibly high elevations (3000 feet high.) On one hand, these are just the right combination of elements that force the wine to struggle for its life; but on the other, they also lend the Ribera tempranillo that famously passionate and boisterous personality that we so commonly associate to the Spanish. Unlike La Rioja, tempranillo from Ribera is muscular and masculine – richly colored, dense and structured.
What is most surprising about La Ribera’s wine is their wine makers and their constant drive and persistence for quality. Despite the laws and classification system created for their wines, bodegueros consistently surpass the qualitative requirements to ensure the end product is pristine and completely in-line with their philosophies. This includes practicing severe green harvest, releasing wines when they are “ready to drink” and not when the market demands them, aging wine in elegant, French barriques versus spicy, American ones and a preponderance for organic farming practices.
According to the President of the Region, José Trillo, “If you pick up an inexpensive Ribera wine, it will always be good. But if you pick up the most expensive wine, it will rival the top five wines currently produced in the world.”
On that note, the most expensive wine from the region is none other than Vega-Sicilia. This winery put Ribera del Duero on the map in 1864 even though they only began to improve and innovate their winemaking in the early 1990s. With luck on her side, Haute Wines recently tasted through a phenomenal line up of Ribera del Duero wines, including Vega Sicilia’s Valbuena and Único, and is all but too happy to share notes.
Vega Sicilia Único, Ribera del Duero, 2000 – Still a baby, the 2000 Único is dignified, powerful and complex just like its history and its role in La Ribera del Duero. It possesses subtle layers of deep, dark fruit like currants, cherries and bramble, along with hints of violets, leather and tobacco. The weighty wine reveals the same fruits on nose but includes additional flavors of plums, dry strawberries and even a touch of licorice candy. A sharp minerality comes through on both the nose and the palate. Like we mentioned before, it’s still a baby, but if enjoyed now, decant for at least an hour; if not let Único sleep for another few years.
Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5, Ribera del Duero, 2004 – The Valbuena is Vega Sicilia’s second label. A blend of tempranillo, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, the deep, dark violet wine is ridden with deep, dark fruit – plums, cassis and figs. The wine is luscious, ample and velvety. It carries this string of intensely, ripe fruit that makes a beeline towards your mid-palate and it possesses a firm, yet well integrated, tannic structure. However, it could still use a couple more years for softening.
Please note some wines are very limited in production and therefore may be difficult to find. If interested in acquiring, tweet me @epicuriouschic and I will be happy to help you source the wine.