Friday, March 23, 2012

Ribera del Duero wine region

Ribera del Duero is one of nine PDOs and three GIs located in the nine provinces that constitute the the autonomous community of Castilla y Leon in noth central Spain.  About 90 minutes north of Madrid, the region runs along the banks of the Duero for 150 km (and to a width of 35 km) enmeshing 100 villages and four provinces in its web.

Source: Consejo Regulador Ribera del Duero

The Ribera del Duero's climate is distinctly continental with bitter winters and hot summers the order of the day. Rainfall, at an annual average of 450mm, is low.  There is significant diurnal temperature variation given the high elevation (700-1000 m) at which the region lies.
The soil consists of layers of silt, sand, and clay alternating with layers of chalky limestone.  According to the Consejo Regulador, most of the soils near the river are a mix of sandy sediment, marl, and alluvial rocks (Campiñas) while vineyards at higher elevations experience a much higher content of chalky limestone and clay (Laderas).  The soils above the Laderas (Cuestas) are harder to work while the soils above them (Páramos) are too exposed to be worked.  The soils distribution is graphically illustrated in the figure below.

Approximately 20,000 ha of vineyards are planted by 270 farmers.

Ribera del Duero was awarded Denominacion de Origen designation in 1982 (now a PDO) and is noted for its reds made mainly from Tinto Fino (also called Tinto del Pais locally), a Tempranillo clone, with varying levels of contribution from Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Merlot, and Malbec.  The wines, which must be at least 75% Tinto Fino, are characterized by "... a soft 'summer-fruit' characteristic and crisp, green tannins" and has been described as "concentrated, intense, bright with color and fruit, and high in alcohol." The red wines must have a minimum alcohol level of 11.5%.

In addition to the reds, some rosé and white wines are produced in the region.  The rosé is fermented without the skin and has a pink strawberry tone, fruity aromas, freshness, and pleasing acidity.  The rosé wines must have a minimum alcohol level of 11%.  The white wine is consumed locally.

The regulatory body oversees all elements of wine production in Ribera del Duero in order to ensure that the quality of the region is upheld.  For example: (i) the DO conducts instrument tests in order to make a determination and communicate to the growers as to when harvest can begin; (ii) samples from each lot grown on a farm is subjected to instrumentation, chemical, and biological analysis; and (iii) an estate's wines have to pass muster with a sanctioned tasting panel in order to be certified DO for that vintage.

Ribera del Duero wines are classified as follows:
  • Joven -- these wines spend less than 12 months in cask (could be zero)
  • Crianza -- these wines spend a minimum of 12 months in oak casks and cannot be sold until 2 years following the harvest date
  • Reserva -- these wines must spend 36 months in a combination of cask and bottle of which at least 12 months must be in cask.  Cannot be sold until 3 years following the harvest
  • Gran Reserva -- these are wines of exceptional quality which have spent a minimum of 60 months aging of which a minimum 24 must be in cask and 36 in bottle.  This wine cannot be sold until 5 years after the harvest date.
A more recent unofficial addition to the classification scheme is the Barric/Roble wine which spends a minimum of 4 months in oak barrel giving sweet tannins to an early drinking wine.

The traditional style of Ribera del Duero, as indicated by the wines of Vega Sicilia, called for lengthy aging in neutral oak prior to release.  This style was contravened with the introduction of Pesquera in the 1980s and, moreso, Pingus in the 1990s.  These new-style wines are aged in newer oak barrels, have higher alcohol levels and bolder flavors, and are released upon bottling.  The quintessential traditional producer in Ribera del Duero is Vega Sicilia but it has responded to the modern style by producing its own version called Alion.  Other modernist producers include the aforementioned Pingus and Tinto Pesquera as well as Bodegas Aalto, Emilio Moro, and Condado de Haza.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando

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