Introductory Guide to the Ribera del Duero Wine Region
In the United States, Rioja typically tends to take precedence over wines from Ribera. However in Spain, where I really started to get into Ribera del Duero wine, many locals actually prefer wines from DO Ribera over DOCa Rioja. It’s really a personal preference, but one thing is certain — wines from both regions are phenomenal and crafted with great care.
Ribera del Duero is a “Benchmark for Quality from Spain”
The Spanish Wine Region of Ribera del Duero
Ribera del Duero is classified as a Denomination of Origin (DO) in Spain. In other words, this region, among others, adheres to a set of guidelines set in place by a regulatory control board for wine in Spain.
For the most part, this classification requires that wines produced here abide by rules that regulate maximum yields and various aging requirements. All of which are aimed at maintaining a consistency in quality of wine. The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave the designation of “DO” to Ribera del Duero on July 21st, 1982.
While Ribera is classified as a “DO,” its regional counterpart Rioja is classified as a DOCa, or Qualified Denomination of Origin. DOCa is considered a step up in quality (there are actually only two in all of Spain), but most locals in Spain will tell you that the quality of Ribera is the same, if not better, than that of DOCa Rioja. Try both regions and you decide!
Ribera enthusiasts believe that the wines produced here are intimately connected to the people and the land. I’ve found that to be largely the truth.
Where is Ribera del Duero Located in Spain?
Ribera del Duero lies within Castilla y León in North Central Spain. Within its borders lie 4 distinct municipalities, including Burgos, Soria, Segovia and Valladolid.
The terroir here is relatively diverse, more diverse than that of Rioja. Soil types include both chalk and clay, along with intermittent layers of silt and limestone. All of which aid in producing very fine and soft mineral flavors detectable in most wines from Ribera.
Climate wise, Ribera del Duero doesn’t get a lot of rain – usually a little to moderate amount (average 500mm/year).
Summers are lengthy and dry, with winter being relatively harsh. Temperatures between day and night do tend to fluctuate, and Ribera is regarded as having somewhat of a rigid continental climate, according to some.
Fun Wine Fact: According to DO Ribera, wine making in the region began as far back as 2,000 years ago. An ancient Roman piece of art was found relatively recently – during the harvest of 1972 in Baños de Valdearados.
Famous Ribera del Duero Wineries
There are a number of bodegas (vineyards) that are noteworthy and worth visiting if you’re in Spain. The most famous is by far Vega Sicilia. Supposedly, it is at Vega Sicilia where Prince Charles purchases most of his wine.
Viña Sastre is also a well known winery in the region.
If you’re traveling through Ribera, try stopping at some of the vineyards along the Duero River, aka the “Golden Mile.” Some of these include Mauro, Abadia de Tuerta and Hacienda Monastery. All of which are beautiful and produce fantastic wines.
Ribera del Duero Wine, Grape Varieties & Terroir
According to DO Ribera, the temperature change during the day and night force the grapes to produce exceptional flavor. During the fall harvest, grapes have achieved optimal ripeness and balance. Red wine is produced primarily in Ribera, with only relatively small amounts of the Abillo white wine grape variety being produced in earnest.
Vintners within the region must adhere to maximum yields, which is 7000kg per hectare. If this is exceeded, a wine cannot carry the DO Ribera designation.
Grape Varieties: (click through to see detailed guides to these grape varieties)
Aging Requirements for Ribera del Duero Wine
So how do you get a Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva? Well, you need to abide by the aging rules set into motion by DO Ribera. These are the same requirements enforced in DOCa Rioja. See the image below, by the Court of Master Sommeliers (PDF) discussing aged related wine designations.