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Why Ribera del Duero can be hard to love

The quality of its top wines is not in question, but this highly rated Spanish region has struggled to win the affections of some wine lovers, including Sarah Jane Evans MW. Here, she explains why, and meets producers determined to change her mind.

Let’s start with this fact: Spain’s most historic and internationally famous winery is in Ribera del Duero. It’s so famous that I don’t need to name it, but for the sake of clarity I will: Vega Sicilia.

The second fact is that in 1982 a wine from Alejandro Fernández, the simply named Tinto Pesquera, was spotted by US critic Robert Parker. In the same year the Ribera del Duero DO (Denominación de Origen) was created, and the Alvarez family purchased Vega Sicilia. Ribera was on the map.

The third fact is that in less than 40 years since then Ribera has undergone huge growth, and is today home to almost 300 wineries.

Now let’s move on to the awkward part, my opinion.

Generalising wildly, I find it hard to fall passionately in love with wines from this exceptionally highly rated region. For a long time I thought I was alone, like the person who says a rude word during a sudden silence at a dinner party. However, having researched this more closely I realise I am one among many.

A Spanish wine enthusiast, a buyer for a top-end independent business in the UK, says despairingly: ‘I just can’t sell Ribera del Duero; my customers won’t buy them, they just don’t like them.’

He stocks wines from Vega Sicilia and a couple of other brands, but cannot delve deeper. Another common complaint is price: Ribera isn’t cheap. Says one buyer: ‘I can’t find a wine I like that my customers can afford.’


Evans’ dream dozen from Ribera del Duero


  • Sarah Jane Evans MW is co-Chair of the DWWA, and author of The Wines of Northern Spain (on sale April 2018, early orders via Amazon)


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