Ask a Spaniard where the best quality Spanish wines come from and the answer will be twofold – Rioja and Ribera del Duero. In the UK, however, Ribera wines are much less well known than Rioja even though their best wines are on an equal footing. Fresh from a recent tour of the region Peter Dean shares with us the wines he discovered on his trip – some very well known and others that are hidden gems ripe for being discovered by wine buyers everywhere. They are a ‘Duero Dozen’ that reflects, in a good way, how the wine styles here are changing for the better.
The 12 Ribera del Duero wines listed below include Vivaltus, a new super-premium wine which Petrus oenologist Jean-Claude Berrouet has overseen. Although its first vintage has yet to see the light of day it has got all the critics in a lather, including Dean.
All of the wines listed below have UK importers listed where applicable, and are not listed in order of preference.
Rosado, Dominio del Pidio, 2018
You don’t normally associate Ribera del Duero with rosé, unlike nearby Navarra, but I tasted some great examples like this rosado from Cillar de Silos, that blends Albillo and Tempranillo.
The whole Dominio del Pidio range, in fact, – red, white and rosé – is worth seeking out. It is run by Cillar de Silos but kept separate, all of the wines fermented in concrete and aged in the ancient caves of Quintana del Pidio. It’s a low tech approach with lower extraction that is producing wines very different from ‘standard’ Ribera wines.
This third vintage of the rosé is 50/50 aged in 500l oak and concrete for eight months and has an interesting creamy, unctuous mouthfeel mixed with hits of dried wild fennel and stone fruit. Loving those on-trend bottle designs too. Not available in the UK yet, but that is surely just a matter of time. (N/A)
Garmón is the latest project of the respected García family which owns Mauro in Castilla y León and San Román in Toro. Mariano García was the winemaker at Vega Sicilia for 30 years which is why this is already such a hugely impressive wine in just its second vintage. The vines are between 40 and 100 years old and found in the cooler, eastern part of the region.
The style is modern Ribera – more red cherry than black, textured and ripe but with great finesse and fine register on the palate. You get a lovely whiff of incense on the nose and, as you would expect from Garcia, the oak ageing is sublime. (Cru, Wine Society)
Valdaya Mirum, 2017
This is only the fourth vintage of a terroir-driven flagship wine from one of the winemaking teams to watch out for in the region. Marta Ramas and Miguel Fisac vinify in 500 litre Stockinger and concrete from fruit that comes from five high plots with a variety of soils and aspects.
Although it has black forest gateaux on the nose and ripe black cherry on the palate, the fruit is pure and fresh, the mouthfeel silky and elegant, and the finish like licking a stone. Immense power but crackles with a nervous energy. (Bancroft)
Parcela El Picón, Pago de los Capellanes, 2014
I confess to always having liked Pago de los Capellanes‘ unique style – there is something in these light, fine-grained, mineral-driven wines that reminds me of quality Cabernet Franc from the Loire that I also very much love.
Parcela El Picón is this estate’s top 1.5 ha single vineyard on sand and limestone soils. It produces a powerhouse of a wine that is complex and elegant at the same time, with the winery’s trademark sandpaper tannins very much to the fore in what is its infancy. The nose invites you in with fresh and dried cranberries, a hint of smokiness, the palate is bold and round and has fine acidity with a blood orange, dry finish. Just 2000 bottles produced. (Enotria&Coe)
Parcela CaraNorte, Montebaco, 2016
Although this single vineyard gem from Montebaco is currently unavailable in the UK, Champagnes & Châteaux bring in two of their other wines, so here’s hoping they will also import this. I tasted Parcela CaraNorte at the bodega and brought a bottle home and it was equally impressive here which is not always the case on press visits.
The winery is one of the highest in the region and lies on a tributary of the Rio Duero, it produces a more premium Reserva but it was this wine from a North-facing, organically farmed plot of Tempranillo that was the true stand-out of an impressive horizontal tasting. The nose is pretty, floral, herbal and leaps out of the glass; the palate is fresh and medium-weight, with terrific depth of fruit, great acidity, elegant tannins, balance and a long length. What more do you want? (Champagnes & Châteaux).
Psi, Dominio de Pingus, 2017
The 2016 vintage was the first that winemaker Peter Sisseck allegedly said was getting close to his vision – an entry level Pingus from fruit sourced externally to help save old vines, promote better farming and ‘give something back to the region’. The 2017 is in the same vein both in the wine’s quality and sheer value for money.
Psi is a very dark wine, the nose is heady with violets and fresh raspberries; the palate is instantly likeable – elegant and precise but with a lot of depth and power, there is good focus and balance here between the generosity of fruit, the acidity and youthful, sandpaper tannins. There are nuances of liquorice and kirsch with a nice, grippy texture. Very classy. (Corney & Barrow)
Reserva Especial, Arzuaga, 2014
This winery is the closest to Vega-Sicilia geographically and is making excellent and interesting wines from entry level to this top end Reserva. The vines are over 80 years old and grown on clay-rich soil. The maceration is short but has 100% whole cluster bunches to add vigour to a wine that also has just the right amount of extract and acidity. The blend is 95% Tempranillo with 5% Albillo added to bring floral notes and address the worryingly high PH levels of Tempranillo. It is a very intense wine but has great acidity and balance.
Félix Callejo, Callejo, 2016
Superb, premium, terroir-driven organic Tempranillo from high elevated limestone soils. The wine has muscularity (15 months in barriques) but a wonderful freshness, tight acidity and well-integrated fine sandpaper tannins that allows approachable, early drinking or ample time in the cellar. Like the best wines of Ribera del Duero there is a multitude of layers and an interesting counterpoint between the ripe cherry flavours of the Tempranillo and the high acidity that acts as a frame for the wine.
The earlier vintages of Félix Callejo were scoring 98+ from Parker but don’t let this put you off – the four Callejo children running the winery didn’t mention it once during the tasting, I suspect because they want the wine’s greatness to stand on its own two feet. (Anthony Byrne Fine Wines)
Unico, Vega-Sicilia, 2010
Hard not to dust off the long list of superlatives when tasting this phenomenal wine, certainly the best Unico I have tasted. The wine leaps out of the almost opaque claret depths in the glass; there’s a slightly disorienting, heady waft of spice (cardamon, fenugreek) as if you had just walked into an Indian spice shop, sweet strawberry jam, black cherry, jamon; the palate is completely approachable, rounded and ripe, with cranberry coulis and liquorice root amongst the complexity and layers of flavour, ending on a lifted, sweet pastry note and splash of vanilla custard.
Like all great wines of this stature this has such purity and completeness from the first enticing, savoury aromas, to when the wine registers perfectly on the palate and finally to the point a long time after the wine has left the palate that keeps your mind humming – like the reverb on the string section after an orchestra has just reached a breath-taking crescendo. There is such freshness and lightness of touch here, wave after wave of layers, underpinned by the structure of the Cabernet and the tannins are so fine I swear you can pick out the atoms of this wine. This is really something. 90% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. (FMV, Berry Bros)
Millenium Gran Reserva, Tinto Pesquera, 2009
Tinto Pesquera’s top cuvée is only made in exceptional years (1996, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009) and comes from Viña Alta, the first vineyards planted by Familia Fernández Rivera in the early 1970s – a single 900m high plot, the fruit of which then spends 30 months in French oak. This is a rich, intense wine from a hot vintage whose fruit is dialled towards black fruits (crème de cassis and mure) rather than red, with dark chocolate, liquorice and spicy notes. It has an elegant mouthfeel and good balance, helped by seemingly very high acidity. (Bibendum)
Finca El Otero, aster, 2014
This estate is owned by Rioja’s La Rioja Alta and only produces two wines, a Crianza and the single plot Finca El Otero whose three soil types produce a wine of greater complexity, roundness and red rather than black fruit. The nose is a heady brew with dark chocolate, coffee and balsamic notes, the wood still apparent as it is also on the palate, although the overall mouthfeel is fresh and polished. (Armit)
Vivaltus, Bodega Vivaltus, 2017
Great things are expected of this new super-premium cuvée from Bodega Vivaltus, a new Ribera set-up owned by Grupo Yllera with direction coming from former Petrus oenologist Jean-Claude Berrouet. It is easy to see why there is so much excitement – although the wine is still relatively primary it has terrific poise on the palate with an undertow of broody dark flavours – liquorice, dried orange peel, soy. On the eye it is dense purple, initially dumb on the nose but then opens out to reveal cherry confiture, cooking spice.
It’s not yet more than the sum of its parts but when it comes together with a few years on the clock it clearly will be something, the length is quite astonishing, it just hangs in the mouth for 60 seconds or so. There is no label yet for this wine which is due out later in 2020. (N/A)
So why no Pingus? I hear you ask. Unfortunately my visit to the estate was cancelled at the last minute. Still waiting for those samples to be sent guys. Who says Christmas comes once a year?!