Few countries rival Spain’s dynamic, ever-evolving wine scene. And it keeps getting better—especially over the last decade, when winemaking along the Iberian Peninsula has improved dramatically. Indeed, the prices of top Spanish vinos, especially reds, have been increasing as rapidly as their quality. But Spain continues to deliver good value. While Rioja still commands respect among the retired, and Priorat makes wines that only rock stars can afford, Ribera del Duero is fast becoming the new darling of Spain’s red wine world.
Located about two hours north of Madrid by car, the Ribera del Duero region extends for some 70 miles along both sides of the Duero River. Wines from the region are made from tinto fino or tinto del país, two local varieties of tempranillo, Rioja’s principal grape, but Ribera’s distinct climate gives its wines more structure and riper fruit.
What Ribera does share with Rioja is its aging rules, which make it easy to distinguish among the wines. Typically, a small, rectangular label on the back of the bottle says either crianza, reserva, or gran reserva. Crianza wines are often the least expensive because they’re the youngest, aged at least one year in wood barrels and one more in bottles. Reserva wines must be aged in wood at least one year and in the bottle two years. Gran reserva wines must be aged at least five years, with at least two of those years spent in wood.
Don’t be alarmed, though, if you see much older vintages on retail shelves. They haven’t been languishing there upright. Spanish producers often hold their wines back until they’re absolutely ready to drink. That means the producers age and store the wines for us, alleviating the need to ask, “Is it ready to drink yet?” How cool is that?
For the record, great wine is not new to Ribera del Duero. Vega Sicilia has long produced one of the great wines of the world (with a $100-plus price to match), but it stood more or less alone in the region until the 1980s, when the powerful, rich wines of the Tinto Pesquera winery started getting rave reviews. Since then Vega Sicilia has acquired Bodegas y Viñedos Alion, and Pesquera has added Condado de Haza to its stable.
A mixed case
Ready to try? These are ready to drink.
Abadía Retuerta Primicia 2003 ($12)
Abadía Retuerta Rívola 2002 ($16)
Arzuaga Crianza 2003 ($27)
Condado de Haza Crianza 2001 ($20)
Tinto Pesquera Crianza 2000 ($23)
Pago de los Capellanes Crianza 2001 ($26)
Bodegas Ismael Arroyo ValSotillo Crianza 1999 ($27)
Bodegas Monasterio Crianza 2001 ($39)
Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro Reserva 1997 ($45)
Bodegas Leda Viñas Viejas 1999 ($60)
Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° 1999 ($125)
Pago de los Capellanes El Picón 1999 ($165)
Emilio Moro Malleolus de Valderramiro 2002 ($165)