The Grapev ine
VALLADOLID, Spain—One thing you can’t help noticing during a visit to Spain’s Ribera del Duero region is the tremendous amount of money that has poured into the area in recent years. The landscape is dotted with grand structures that more often than not house a winery. An estimated 80 percent of the area’s vineyards have been planted in the past 20 years.
Although much of the growth is relatively recent, winemaking dates from Roman times. Vega Sicilia, with its rare and expensive wines, has been in business since 1864, but it wasn’t until the success of Alejandro Fernandez, who founded his estate in 1972, that the region began to gain momentum. Fernandez’s wine called Tinto Pesquera became one of Ribera del Duero’s best-known bottlings. Fernandez and other producers gained official recognition for their appellation in 1982.
Ribera del Duero appears flat to rolling, but it’s on a high plain and has the highest average elevation in Europe for growing red grapes, with vineyard altitudes that range from about 2,500 to 3,100 feet. Summer days are hot, but temperatures drop dramatically at night, and the growing season can be short.
Tempranillo—known locally as tinto fino or tinta del pais—dominates, with 95 percent of the production. The early-ripening variety is particularly well-suited for the short growing season. That short season leads to a fair amount of vintage variation, but when conditions are right, the wines of Ribera del Duero can be lively, dark and delicious.
Fernandez’s wines are a good example. The 2006 Bodegas Fernandez Tinto Pesquera ($34) is still quite tight, but it’s also dark, juicy and spicy. The 2005 Pesquera Reserva ($53) is a little bigger, with dark, earthy black fruit, a hint of cedar and firm tannins.
Nearby is another high-quality producer, Bodegas Emilio Moro. The easy-to- drink 2007 Emilio Moro Finca Resalso ($14), made from younger vines, has fresh, bright berry flavors and medium tannins. The flagship is the 2006 Emilio Moro ($26), a rich, juicy wine with dark, ripe fruit, hints of mocha and mint and firm tannins. The 2006 Emilio Moro Malleolus ($71) displays dense, ripe black fruit and a fair amount of oak; it will benefit from further aging.
I enjoyed the wines at Bodegas Vizcarra, situated near the center of the appellation. The 2008 Vizcarra Roble ($18) is smoky and bright, with lively berry fruit and medium tannins. The 2007 Vizcarra “JC” ($24) is dark, dense and peppery, with bright acidity. From the hilltop Valduero winery comes the 2005 Valduero Crianza ($27), which is ripe, dark and lively, with fine tannins, and the 2004 Valduero Reserva ($41), a bigger wine with juicy, dark fruit, a hint of roasted coffee and firm tannins.