Ribera del Duero is perhaps best known for being the home of Vega Sicilia, Spain's first growth equivalent. South of Rioja, and on the river Duero, it has for a couple of decades challenged Rioja as Spain's leading red wine producing region. It sits between 700 to 850 metres above sea level, with a short growing season and very hot summers. In my experience, the wines of Ribera del Duero tend to be bigger and darker than Rioja wines. In this particular tasting however, only Rioja wines from great vintages were presented (for my notes on the Rioja component see here), and so the Ribera were more difficult to tell apart (tasted blind, that is). Ribera reds are predominantly tempranillo, called tinto fino in these parts.
To follow are notes on three benchmark wines from the region.
Vega Sicilia Tinto Valbeuna 5o Ribera del Duero 2001
Vega Sicilia's "Valbeuna" is a 5 year old vintage dated wine aged in American oak, and is a blend of tempranillo and merlot. It presented with aromatics of earth, tobacco, licorice, meats and soy, and an evident complexity. The palate is full bodied with long length, and has reminders of coffee and lactic characters. (Tasted blind) it finishes with that first growth style exquisite balance; you know it when taste it. Rating: Outstanding
Alion Ribera del Duero 2001
You might think of "Alion" as the cousin of Vega Sicilia, but equally well to do. In 1991, Bodegas Vega Sicilia acquired the nearby Liceo winery and created the Alion wine, which unlike the Valbeuna is 100% tempranillo and aged in French oak. This wine also presented deliciously, but has a different expression - more primary and structured than the Valbeuna, but no less complex. It has aromas of blackberry, licorice, stones and cedar and a crunchy character to it. The palate is earthy with good length, acidity and a structural well being that suggests a long life ahead. Joyous drinking. Rating: Outstanding
Hacienda Monasterio Reserva Ribera del Duero 2009
This wine has a story too. From what I read, Pingus in Ribera del Duero was established in 1995 by Peter Sisseck as a garagiste cult style operation, with a focus on old vine tempranillo. Hacienda Monasterio was founded earlier in 2001 and has a Pingus connection with Peter Sisseck as its winemaker. The Reserva is a blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon. The 2009 vintage sits at a heady 15%, and has intense aromatics of licorice, earth, raisins, clove and pepper. The palate is savoury, with an earthy structure and good length. This is a powerful wine that may worry some, but equally, it seems a valid and correct expression of its terroir. Rating: Very Good