by Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 10 October 2015
Ribera del Duero is now Spain’s premier division red wine region. Along with its fame in Spain and beyond has come astonishingly high prices. Yet recently I have noticed an influx of more affordable wines from this region – some even under £10 – so I reckoned it was time to check to see if they too can deliver on the region’s promised taste and flavour.
This region is often compared to Spain’s other top red region Rioja – but the only thing these two regions really have in common is that they share a grape – Tempranillo. That is where the similarity really ends. Ribera del Duero has a much more continental, harsher climate with hot summers and very cold winters, a shorter ripening period and greater frost risk – and there are more limestone soils along the banks of the Duero river.
The result is a red wine style in Ribera del Duero that is more perfumed, brighter in fruit, but higher in acid, sturdier in structure with firmer tannins than you find further east in Rioja, where the climate is more temperate. Ribera del Duero wines can sometimes be ‘tough’ or ‘hard work’ to drink – as some of our tasters pointed out – particularly if too much oak is used or acid levels are high. These two elements can overpower what fruit there is – and it certainly happens in the more difficult vintages where the fruit has not really achieved enough ripeness.
With 21,000 hectares Ribera del Duero is only one third the size of Rioja, so there are fewer vineyards and less grapes here, which are highly sought after. The área is owned by 8000 growers (including 200 larger wine estates which have mushroomed in the last decade). Many of the growers have just a tiny one hectare parcel of vines selling grapes to the local Protos co-operative in Penafiel or to estates. The región is spread across four provinces (Burgos in the north, Soria in the east, Segovia in the south and Valladolid to the west) – but the Golden Mile in Ribera del Duero, home to Vega Sicilia and many top estates, is just west of Penafiel town on the famed Duero river banks.
I was interested to see if the new Ribera del Duero wines were just a pale imitation of the real thing at the cheaper end of the spectrum – or whether they were much more approachable than the estate’s higher priced wines which often need time to bottle to mellow.
The aim of these affordable wines is clearly to offer a good introduction to this popular región. What I found was quite a mixed bag – some were certainly ‘hard work’ and austere to taste – and drink. Whilst other wines which scored well in our tasting from Cillar de Silos, Bodegas Aster, Finca Villacreces and Pago de Los Capellanes in particular were picked out by our tasters as very attractive introductions to this exciting progressive Spanish región.
CURATO DE SILOS 2013 (£12.99 bt or £9.99 in mixed case Laithwaites www.laithwaites.co.uk)
Amalio Aragon set up Cillar de Silos estate in 1970. Today his son Oscar makes one of Ribera’s top-rated wines here. This particular cuvee was blended specifically for Laithwaites as an introductory attractively-priced bottling to show people what the region has to offer. Plenty of violet aromas, spicy plum and black cherry fruits and soft tannins. Popular with our tasters who reckon it makes a great bargain when bought in a mixed case. Bring out the roast lamb or hog roast. Alcohol 13.5% STAR BUY
TASTE THE DIFFERENCE MARQUES DE ALMEIDA RIBERA DEL DUERO (£8 Sainsbury’s)
Considering the price, this is a good modern introduction to the region – but it does have a certain hollowness to the mid-palate. It was tasted alongside more expensive wines in this price category and did stand its ground fairly well. Bright cherry fruits, soft succulent mid-palate and decent length: a pretty good price for Ribera del Duero. Alcohol 14%
VALDUBON ROBLE 2012 (£10.00 Marks & Spencer)
An average scorer in our tasting. Good perfumed bouquet with damson fruits is inviting, modern in style – but slightly falls short on the palate and length. Many thought it was a bit simple and less characterful than others. Alcohol 13.5%
ONE RIBERA DEL DUERO RESERVA 2009 Bodegas Aster
Very popular with our tasters. They loved the rich licquorice scents and flavours, very mellow complex palate with dried fruit undertones and soft tannins. “Much more approachable than many in this price sector” – thanks to its bottle age – whilst others said it reminded them of port (we are on the same river, of course). Bodegas Aster is the Ribera venture of acclaimed Rioja producer La Rioja Alta – no wonder it is so good! It should be served alongside food – Oddbins reckons chilli con carne, but it could match a big juicy sirloin steak too. Alcohol 14.5% STAR BUY
MONTECASTRILLO 2013 (£7.49 until 26 October at Majestic Wine)
Tasters found this a little harsh and dry, a bit edgy with firm tannins – and medium finish. Made by Finca Torremilanus with the bodegas creator 1927 Don Calixtode Zorrilla pictured on the front label. Based in Arande de Duero, it has had 6 months in French oak barriques. I think it might have been better using a little American oak to add a vanilla softness. Alcohol 13.5%
CILLAR D’ SILOS CRIANZA 2011 (£13.49 until 26 October at Majestic Wine)
A good scorer for its rich damson aroma, intense liquorice notes and rich velvet texture. This is made by the famous Cillar de Silos team, so it come from a very good provenance. It has had 13 months French oak barrels but none of our tasters found the oak too overpowering. Alcohol 14.5%
DOMINIO BASCONCILLOS ROBLE 2012 (£11.99 Vintage Roots
Not a particularly high scorer as many thought this organic Ribera del Duero too harsh in structure and tannins too firm. It hails from high altitude plantings at 1,000m, but perhaps the vines are still young and not bearing adequate ripeness of fruit. Alcohol 14%
FINCA VILLACRECES ‘PRUNO’ 2013 (£15.99 Harrisons Fine Wines, Crieff; Exel Wines, Perth; Fine Wine Company, Edinburgh)
A popular scorer for its rich cherry fruits, hints of liquorice, rich mouthfilling flavours and good length. This comes from a relatively new bodegas on the scene (run by Rioja Izadi) who have taken over the old Franciscan monk’s retreat, creating a new vineyard estate in 2007 in a prime position on Ribera del Duero’s golden mile along the Duero banks. Pruno has 10% Cabernet Sauvignon blended in, giving it a hint of cassis and mint; with 12 months in three year old oak it works well with integrated oak notes. Alcohol 13.5%
BODEGAS PAGO DE LOS CAPELLANES TINTO CRIANZA 2011 (£22.50 Great Western Wines; £22.50 for 2010 vintage Berry Bros & Rudd)
A jump up in price here, but worth it for a more intense offering of Ribera del Duero. Rich layers of cherry fruits, spicy, silky with soft cedary undertones from 12 months in French & American oak barrels with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. This comes from a very modern new estate at Pedrosa de Duero – it is named ‘land of the chaplains’ as this área used to be owned by chaplans before they sold it to the city council in mid C19. Alcohol 13.5% STAR BUY
PARADA DE ATAUTA 2012 Dominio de Atauta (£16.95 Slurp.co.uk)
Unusually in a Burgundian-shaped bottle (most Ribera del Duero’s are in Bordelais bottles). Tasters liked the plumminess and gentle oak, but found the fruit a bit too over-extracted. This wine is named after a small valley in Soria easterly zone of Ribera where vines are grown at 1,000 metres. Bodegas de Dominio de Atauta was set up by a Madrid wine merchant Miguel Sanchez in 1999 – this is his ‘introductory’ wine so you can see he has amibition! Alcohol 14.5%
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