Ribera del Duero is located a mere two hours north of Madrid, its eponymous river valley cutting a welcome swathe to provide relief from the arid Meseta Central. The climate is distinctly continental, with altitude key in informing a style of wine that is distinguished by generous colour, fleshy mid-palate fruit and a richly velvety mouthfeel. Purity and power are epithets often used to describe these wines and although the Tinta del Pais grape, which dominates proceedings, is synonymous with Rioja’s Tempranillo, the styles of wines are different and, it is becoming increasingly apparent, entirely complementary.
Hugging the river for nearly 112km, the Ribera del Duero DO was created in 1982 and has grown significantly in recent time. There are now over 300 wineries covering its 24,014ha, with 7,889 growers harvesting the fruit. Low rainfall conspires with marked diurnal temperature variations to underwrite the silky generosity of these wines. White wine has, since 2019, been eligible for DO status, but it is seldom encountered and there is only a little rosado made.
Red wine is king, therefore, as this tasting proved with such eloquence. Low yields and expensive oak, most of it French, marked out the best examples, which ran the gamut in terms of ageing and price point. Most were from the cool 2018 vintage, the inherent freshness engendered by the relatively modest mid-summer temperatures working in the wines’ favour at times, underlining inherent complexity and nuance of structural definition.
The DO may be most famous for Vega Sicilia and its long oak-matured wines, but most of the wines in my top 18 had not been aged in this way. This served to enhance the impression of textural generosity and to underline the point of difference with other more traditional DOs.
Ribera del Duero is making some outstanding wines; the logical next step will be the identification of more specific terroir parcels to highlight the fact that it is fruit rather than oak which is in charge.
And, as this tasting proved time and time again, the fruit on show was both wonderfully seductive and also, more often than not, ripe for lengthy cellaring.
Félix Callejo, Suelos de Caliza 2018 96
£99 Iberian Drinks
Regal nose: with air an inherent complexity unfurls; blueberries, raspberry, tobacco, sandalwood and forest floor. A satisfying slow burn that’s echoed on the palate where silky red fruit banishes any anxiety about over-extraction. Instead, there is balance and finesse that leaves the taster more than merely satisfied. Drink 2023-2032 Alc 14.5%.
Garmón Continental, Garmón 2017 95
£40 City Wine Collection
Displays the purity, power and elegance for which the Garcia family is known. Aromas of blue and black fruit, spliced with French oak, hints of balsam and a persuasive lift. Unique, pure and powerful; an eloquent statement from a winemaker who rejoices in old high-altitude vines. Drink 2022-2030 Alc 14.5%.
Explotaciones Valduero, 6 Años Reserva Premium 2012 94
£50 Charles Mitchell Wines
Nose of woodsmoke, bracken, charcuterie; a hint of balsam and mocha. The six years of ageing may call to mind Rioja, but nothing else does; this is a powerful and pure statement of a slowly evolving Ribera del Duero; the oak grip still a strong one! Drink 2021-2030 Alc 14%.
Valdemonjas, Los Tres Dones 2018 94
£34 Indigo Distribution
Beguiling aromas: a marriage of ripe red and black fruit with charming vanillin oak. The old vine intensity provides an elegant counterpoint to the attractive immediacy of the fruit hit on the palate. Superb balance and impressive length, with just a whisper of white pepper spicing up the finale. Drink 2022-2028 Alc 14.5%.
Bodegas Fuentenarro, Esenzias by Fuentenarro 2018 93
£40 Les Caves de Pyrene
On aeration the aromatics cede floral notes, together with hints of mulberry, sousbois, a dash of mint and just-ripe plum. The palate has creamy richness courtesy of the 18 months in French oak, for sure, but plenty of natural lift and firm acidity. A bold but engaging statement. Drink 2023-2030 Alc 15%.
Bodegas La Horra, Corimbo I 2015 93
£50 Hard to Find Wines
Depth of colour belies the age of the wine. Secondary notes garland both nose and palate, however; a plush ensemble with blue fruit, spice and an authoritative oak backdrop. Dark chocolate, woodsmoke and tapenade stand out in a powerful expression of Tinta del Pais that has been built to last. Drink 2023-2030 Alc 14.5%.
Bodegas Protos, Selección El Grajo Viejo 2016 93
Immediately attractive aromas of vanilla, mocha, strawberry, balsam and camphor. Red fruits on the palate, the tannins poised and finely integrated. Plush and plentiful, the temptation for a second glass overrules the 15% alcohol. Its development should be fascinating. Drink 2023-2032 Alc 15%.
Pago De Los Capellanes, Tinto Crianza 2018 93
£28 ND John
The nose opens gradually; flowers and fruit deftly poised. The palate is more immediately seductive, the primary fruit holding court with fluency, the French oak discreet in the background. Approachable, with more to give, this wine doesn’t lack self-belief. Drink 2022-2026 Alc 14.5%.
Aalto, PS 2018 92
£60 Justerini & Brooks
Regal purple, youthful rim, deep inky core. The nose is deliciously evocative; mulberry, violets and a hint of cleansing eucalypt. Rich and velvety on the palate, the 19 months of new French oak bequeath powerful yet finely integrated tannins and the sense of an inspiring future. Drink 2023-2032 Alc 15%.
Aster, Finca El Otero 2016 92
£35 Armit Wines
The nose is dignified, herbs and dark fruit embedded on spicy foundations, with notable complexity. The palate is firm and serious; the grip of expensive French oak still dominant, the dark fruit elegant and persuasive, mocha in the background. The structure will favour ambitious gastronomy.Drink 2021-2028 Alc 15%.
Carmelo Rodero, Crianza 2018 92
Dramatic brick red colour. The nose is reticent; there’s little sign of the dash of Cabernet Sauvignon in this blend. The palate is more forthcoming; mulberry fruit, mocha and hints of sandalwood from the 15 months in French oak. Complete and self-assured, with finely judged acidity in support. Drink 2021-2026 Alc 14.5%.
Cillar de Silos, Crianza 2018 92
£19.50 Bancroft Wines
Aromatics of mulberry, mocha and incense. Charming fruit on the palate; ripe yet restrained – a child of altitude and careful extraction. Purity is key here, with the 12 months in French oak lending gentle support without threatening to overwhelm its inherent finesse, the 15% of alcohol worn lightly. Drink 2022-2026 Alc 14.5%.
Marta Maté 2018 92
£27 Naked Wines
Organically cultivated grapes, aged in French oak. Complex nose of incense, cloves and white pepper behind blue fruit. The palate is pure and linear, translating into an impressive length with an edgy, earthy charm. A hint of tapenade and eucalypt behind the fruit, which is nicely balanced. Drink 2022-2028 Alc 14%.
Familia Fernández Rivera, Tinto Pesquera Crianza 2018 92
£18 Fine Wine Direct
Saturated ruby colour, with a blue meniscus, then a typical Fernandez nose; nutmeg, blueberry, laurel and soft butter. The palate has focus and pleasing weight, the initial spiciness harnesses the ensemble with an impressive capacity to satisfy. Drink 2021-2026 Alc 14.5%.
El Lagar de Isilla, Paraje Peñalobos 2016 91
£20.40 Stone Vine & Sun
Centenarian vines grown at 990m in altitude in the Le Vid vineyard. A nose of raspberry, bacon rind, damsons, dark chocolate, violets and mint. Intense and persuasive palate: ripe and dense fruit, dark chocolate, lavender and graphite. The weave is tight and intricate. Drink 2023-2028 Alc 15%.
Legaris, Alcubilla de Avellaneda 2016 91
£40 Codorniu UK
From Tinto Fino vines at 940m; marginal in every sense. The aromatics need air; hints of prune, mocha, forest floor, spice. A little volatility on the palate; the cleansing acidity is more positive. Black forest gateau, cloves and dark chocolate; aristocratic, sinewy tannins. Drink 2022-2028 Alc 14.5%.
López Cristóbal, Crianza 2018 91
£19.99 Raeburn Fine Wines
Ruby red with aromas of strawberry, raspberry compote, white pepper and hints of suede. The palate is softly approachable, the generosity of the fruit amplified, the structure sufficiently diligent to repay most gastronomic pairings, yet also approachable for early drinking on its own. Drink 2021-2024 Alc 14.5%.
Valdubón, Roble 2018 90
£12.95 Freixenet Copestick
Attractive bright ruby; aromas of cherry, vanillin, strawberry and soft spice, a hint of iodine behind. An elegant roble style, the ripe blue and red fruit to the fore, but ably supported by notes of spice and vanillin. Drink 2021-2023 Alc 14%.