Navigating the tough terrain of Spain’s Ribera del Duero

By / Magazine / August 15th, 2016 / 15

When it comes to the world of wines Spain is Rioja and Rioja is Spain … at least it used to be that way. Today Spain has as many different sub-regions as California (well maybe not that many), and more keep getting “found” all the time. According to, the official website of Spanish wines in Canada, there are currently 69 Denominations of Origin (DO) regions growing and making wine in the country, some you may have heard of and some so new not even the people making wine there knew it was a region.

For years I have predicted Spain as the next big thing, but as each year passed I figured my crystal ball was broken (or maybe it was the consumer). But with all these great new regions, new wines and winemaking minds coming out from Spain it is only a matter of time before the country goes boom on the world wine stage … let’s take a brief look at some of these “new” and exciting regions and the wines they’re producing.

In what is referred to as North Central Spain lies the Ribera del Duero; if this region sounds vaguely familiar, River of Duero, you would be correct; this is the river that starts in Spain at the tip of Sistema Ibérico and meanders some 460 miles ending in the Atlantic Ocean at Oporto, Portugal, where it is called the Douro River, which cuts through the famed Douro Valley where Port is made. But while Portuguese wine production along the river dates back to the third and fourth centuries, in Spain it’s much more recent. The first winery, Vega Sicilia (so famous that my spellcheck okayed the words right away), entered the scene in 1864 and remained alone in the region for over 100 years. Pesquera, the second winery, appeared in 1972, which explains why they had to wait until 1982 to receive their DO status. Plantings are over 90 per cent Tempranillo (known locally as Tinto Fino) and it’s said that the “drastic diurnal shift” in temperature is what gives these wines their personality — it isn’t surprising to see a 50˚F spread between daytime and nighttime temperatures.

A couple of my favourite DO’s to see on a bottle are Calatayud and Carinena, which are part of the larger Ebro River Valley. Here Grenache (Garnacha) rules the roost and what was once a region of mass quantity has turned to one of quality — bottles were five to six dollars, and today they are double, or even more. But these rich, succulent wines remain great value for consumers looking to buy wine that not only shows great character but intriguing power still wrapped in the velvet glove of sweet ripe fruit.

Penedes is a region all sparkling wine lovers should get to know. Why? ‘Cause 90 per cent of all Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) is made there. It’s home to Codorniu, the famous Spanish sparkling house, and it’s where grapes like Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada — Spain’s version of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier — call home. But it’s also the home of the world-famous Torres winery, whose claim to fame, besides making great wines, happened in the mid-1960s when they were one of the first wineries in the world to install stainless steel tanks for the making of fresh and fruity white wines. Tempranillo is the main grape, but international varieties are also grown here in sufficient quantity.

Staying in Spain’s Mediterranean Coast area we find Jumilla. Here (unlike other parts of Spain) Tempranillo is not the be-all and end-all of winemaking; instead Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) is in charge of the vineyards (70,000 acres planted) and because of the sandy soils, much of it is still on its own rootstock (ungrafted). However, in 1989 phylloxera did rear its ugly head and suddenly these beautiful old vines began showing signs of the louse’s suckering ways, and the region has started a grafting program for any new plantings. The problem is, Monastrell has not always been American rootstock friendly — though in the past few years they are making some progress in identifying the right ones. Whether Monastrell will be lost to Jumilla is still a wait-and-see proposition, but for now stock up on as many old vine Monastrell wines while you still can.

Corona de Aragon Anayon Garnacha 2012, Carinena ($30.95)

Mocha, black cherry and pepper; this is a real full and robust wine full of lovely flavours and aromas.

Corona de Aragon Anayon Carinena 2012, Carinena ($32)

Aromas are heavy on the red berries, while the palate is cherry, chocolate, cassis and blackberry.

Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Penedes ($59)

Herbal, cassis, blackberry with a smoky and spicy finish — there’s also a real mocha/chocolate core that’s very inviting.

Bodegas Valdemar Fincas Valdemar Crianza 2012, Ribera del Duero ($27)

A Tempranillo based wine aged 12 months in oak; aromas of chocolate and white pepper; palate shows the delicacy of black cherry, blackberry, along with a short finish hinted with vanilla and chocolate — quite smooth.

Balbas Reserva 2005, Ribera del Duero ($20.95)

Mellow and smooth with lots of blackberry and spice; really dig on the juiciness of this wine.

Alconte Crianza  2010, Ribera del Duero ($27.95)

It would be easy to write this wine off as simplistic with its mocha, cherry, smoky and plumy notes, but it is exactly what your palate is going to love.

Vizcarra Senda del Oro Roble 2012, Ribera del Duero ($18.95)

Some wines defy description, while others just leap out at you; here dark fruit with mocha, vanilla and liquorice deliver the goods.

Chapillon Siendra 2011, Calatayud ($14.95)

Ripe and fruity with a lovely juiciness of raspberry and plum … you can practically feel the juice dripping down your chin.

Valdemar Fincas Valdemar Roble 2012, Ribera del Duero ($19.95)

Two things stand out here: spiced cherry and oak tones, but neither seems to get in the way of the other.

Breca Old Vines Garnacha 2012, Calatayud ($19.95)

Sweet cherry and blackberry with vanilla undertones, plus elements of smoke; this is one silky wine.

Convento San Francisco Crianza 2009, Ribera del Duero ($19.95)

Ripe black fruit with anise, plum and black cherry.

Miros de Ribera  Crianza 2009, Ribera del Duero ($21.95)

Seductive dark fruit, pencil shavings, cinnamon, plum and wood smoke.

Bodegas Alceno Seleccion Crianza 2012, Jumilla ($21)

75% Monastrell with Tempranillo and Syrah aged 8 months in oak; easy drinking with red fruit, cocoa and white pepper.

Bodegas Alceno Monastrell Dulce 2010, Jumilla ($32/375 ml)

A sweet yet pretty dessert wine wild fermented to 16% with violet, cherry, sweet blackberry and spice.

Alceno Premium 50 Barricas Syrah 2012, Jumilla ($13.95)

A vibrant Syrah from a place a you don’t expect, and it’s a good value too.

Juan Gil Monastrell 2012, Jumilla ($23.95)

Red and black fruit with supple plum, black cherry and a juicy core of yummy flavours and hints of liquorice.

Torres Celeste Crianza 2011, Ribera del Duero ($20.95)

Torres doesn’t limit itself to just one area, here’s a Ribera red blend that’s well spiced with blueberry, black cherry and a touch of pencil lead.

Finca Villacreces Pruno 2012, Ribera del Duero ($21.95)

The mocha aromas/flavours seem to be quite prevalent in the Ribera region, and it’s the same here: mocha, cigar box, spiced cherry and good acidity.

Tinto Pesquera Reserva 2010, Ribera del Duero ($44.95)

Pesquera seems to bring a Rioja-style to the Ribera: nice plum, gentle spice, oxidized red fruit; pretty and elegant.


Michael is an award-winning journalist: Promoting the Promoters Award Cuvée 2010 and Ontario Wine Awards Journalist of the Year 2012.  He is also a national and international wine judge - Ontario Wine Awards, All Canadian Wine Championships; Best of Riesling — Germany; Essencia do Vinho — "Top Wines of Portugal".  He is currently the President of the Wine Writers Circle of Canada and the wine columnist for Ottawa Life and Grand magazine as well as regular contributor to Tidings, and Grapevine ... his reviews have also appeared in the LCBO Vintages magazine. Michael has also added a YouTube channel to his activities where he reviews bottles of great Ontario wine on a weekly basis. In whatever he does, it is Michael’s desire to educate, inspire and encourage others to grow their own love and enthusiasm for wine – and to realize that it is their palate that ultimately makes the decision.

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