10 of the best Ribera Del Duero reds picked by Tim Atkin MW
Despite getting some bad press for the wines being ‘samey’ Peter Dean attended a Ribera del Duero tasting and discovered a refreshingly varied set of wines. Most of the wines on show were 100% Tempranillo, had robust acidity, concentrated fruit and freshness – but the variety in different styles is huge as a result of altitude, soil (of which there are 30 types) and winemaking style.
By Peter Dean – February 14, 2019
It’s odd, given how many of Spain’s top wines come from Ribera Del Duero, that it should be the subject of such criticism. 2018 was no different in that one leading critic laid into the region calling it ‘samey’; another critic I talked to at Tim Atkin’s Top 100 Ribera Del Duero tasting in December said that she couldn’t tell the wines apart.
“Look!” she cried, pointing at a row of identical birds on a wire outside the London venue, “that’s the same as this tasting… they’re all the same.”
The Ribera Del Duero London tasting, December 2018
I beg to differ and one aspect of Atkins’ masterclass, in which we looked at 10 of his favourites, was showing just how different they are. Sure, most of them are 100% Tempranillo, have robust acidity, a degree of concentration in their fruit and have a real freshness to the palate – but the variety in different styles is huge as a result of altitude, soil (of which there are 30 types) and winemaking style which, combined here, are far more important than East/West orientation.
Ribera Del Duero has a climate of extremes, one of the shortest growing periods in the world, with a massive diurnal range – in summer this can track up to 28 degrees between day and night.
“Summer here is a bit like that description of La Mancha: “Three months of winter and nine months of hell”,” grins Atkin.
Aside from the winemaking styles which vary considerably, Atkin points out the age of the vines here. A third of all the vines across the 22,552 hectares run by 311 wineries (over 102 communes in four provinces) are bush vines
“Many of them are far older than the 35 years required to call bush vines ‘old’ in South Africa. There are a lot of old bush vines here – 817 hectares of vines were planted before 1920.”
Grapes have been grown here far longer, of course, since Roman times, although the modern industry kicked off from 1838 when estates started importing Bordeaux varieties – 20% still have Bordeaux varieties. A lot of the vines were abandoned after the Civil War when it was more profitable to grow cereal crops, but in the past few decades the region has refound its dynamism with a lot of investment and new plantings.
And so to the 10 wines….
All of the wines are 100% Tempranillo apart from two that have 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot and 8 that have 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the blend.
This is the top single vineyard wine from the region’s organic pioneer, the juice coming from 30 year old vines. Natural yeasts, malolactic fermentation in oak barrels and then 22 months of oak barrel ageing (80% French). The tannins for this were mouth-puckering, the oak not so well integrated in my mind with a creaminess coming from the 20% American oak. Maybe this is a reflection of difficulties with the hot vintage of 2015 or else the wine just needs a lot more time in bottle.