Ribera Del Duero is touted as one of the most exciting wine regions in Europe, let alone Spain. Capable of producing some of the finest wines on the continent, the sumptuous fine wines have long been enjoyed by residents of Madrid, with the rest of the world slowly cottoning on since the 1980s. November saw the release of Tim Atkin MW’s updated Ribera Del Duero Report along with his Top 100 Wines. We sent The Buyer’s Mike Turner along to discover more.
Tim Atkin MW, in his latest report on the region, fuels the enthusiasm surrounding Ribera del Duero by stating the region is “continually evolving and developing” and that “its best years are ahead of it.”
When I first started my wine blog, nearly a decade ago now, Spanish wine was a huge blind spot for me. Like most of you out there I’d enjoyed wines from Galicia and Rioja (and worrying amounts of ‘two buck chuck’ from the dodgier parts in my student days), but the knowledge sort of ended there. As I began to dig a bit deeper over the weeks and months, the same region kept cropping up – Ribera Del Duero. A decade or so later of swatting up on the books of Sarah Jane Evans MW, or the reports of Tim Atkin MW, and I’m feeling a lot more clued up as to why the wine world (especially the fine wine world) are interested in this 115km strip of vines a couple of hours from Madrid.
At the same time, I can’t blame those of you who feel a bit out of the loop. The rise of Ribera Del Duero is relatively recent and continues to roll on under the radar to some extent. Chances are you’ll have heard of the world-famous Vega Sicilia which was established as the region’s first winery back in the late 19th century. For most of the 20th century, however, bulk production of rosé dominated and the spotlight of attention was very much elsewhere.
Step forward Alejandro Fernandez. His Tinto Pesquera 1982 was hailed as “The Pétrus of Spain” by none other than Robert Parker, bringing the fine wine investment dollars flooding in. These top wines were joined by further iconic wines, such as Dominio De Pingus from “the Dane in Spain” himself, Peter Sisseck. A law change at the turn of the century saw investment from other wine regions such as Rioja, Catalunya and further abroad. This has seen the number of wineries grow to over 300 in 2022 – a far cry from the seven bodegas that welcomed the establishment of the DO in 1982.
The Burgundy of Spain
Tim Atkin MW, a champion of the region and author of the eponymous annual reports on the best it has to offer, cites Ribera Del Duero as the “Burgundy of Spain”.
This high praise is bestowed to reflect both the patchwork of soil types throughout the four main regions of Burgos, Valladolid, Segovia and Soria. The DO has mapped over 30 different soil types, with Vega Sicilia’s Pablo Álvarez claiming there are at least 19 different soils in their 200 hectares alone. An increasing number of single vineyard expressions are being released as producers increasingly feel confident in their terroir across the valley floor, slopes, and elevated moorlands up to 1100m above sea level.
Like Burgundy, there are increasingly interesting and new styles of winemaking that are keeping up with modern trends whilst still being respectful to old school knowledge. The “traditional style” was lower alcohol, higher acidity, and aged in American oak. There’s also the “modern” style (made popular in the 1980s and 1900s as producers enjoyed the Parker-related fame) of later-picked fruit, powerful wines, aged in small French oak barrels. Both are present still and evolving as producers aim for vineyard expression, especially (as we’ve mentioned earlier) now they gradually learn the nuances of their terroir.
Similar to Burgundy reds, one grape dominates, Tempranillo. Known locally as Tinto Fino, it ripens early avoiding the harsh autumns and can also express differences in terroir and winemaking skill and style, vital to show off the premium expressions that are achievable. The DO also allows up to 25% of other varieties in the blend, something Atkin argues is important to achieve structural balance, especially in the face of climate change.
An impressive 10% of the Tinto Fino vines, however, are over 80 years old (some over 200) thanks to sandy, phylloxera resistant soils, meaning that even in the face of the challenges of increasing heat and climate change, wines of consistent, elegant balance are still produced.
Tim Atkin MW’s updated Top 100 for 2022
Tim Atkin MW, in his latest report on the region, fuels the enthusiasm surrounding Ribera del Duero by stating the region is “continually evolving and developing” and that “its best years are ahead of it.” His enthusiasm for the top wines of the region is on show for all to see in his annual Top 100 list, with the 2022 version released to the trade this November.
It’s an important list to keep updated. Ribera Del Duero is subject to often quite large vintage variations. It’s been said that the climate is “3 months of summer and 9 months of hell”, reflecting the mix of hail, frosts, snows, and scorching heat that can happen in this landlocked region. Yet, as in other landlocked Spanish regions, producers talk of Atlantic (cooler and wetter) versus Mediterranean (hotter & drier) vintages. Which ones come out on top in terms of quality is completely up to the tastes of the end consumer, but it highlights the importance of the annual updates of Atkin’s reports.
My top picks from the Top 100
I tried my way through (most of) the 100 wines on the list. One or two unfortunately hadn’t made it over but those that did really showed off the quality on show from across the region. I’ve picked out 6 of my favourites to keep your eye on…
Montebaco Parcela Cara Norte Cosecha 2019
Montebaco is a winery that sits in a prime spot straddling the famed municipalities of Valbuena and Pesquera. This is a single estate that uses grapes only from its own vineyards planted at 850-900m in altitude, whose diurnal range and almost exclusive use of Tinto Fino provides classic Ribera styles year on year. I do wonder whether this wine in particular appeals to me given Atkin dubs it “the best value wine in Ribera”? Everything you’d expect from a top Ribera, with concentrated black fruits, herbal notes, sweet spice and (very importantly) well-judged use of oak allowing those primary flavours to dominate. Tim Atkin MW 96 points
Bodegas Valdaya, Mirium Cosecha 2020
Arguably one of the most exciting projects in Ribera right now, the wines of Valdaya are defined by the star winemaking duo of Marta Ramas and Miguel Fisac. Using knowledge picked up across the world, they arrived at Valdaya in 2013 and move production to micro-fermentation, expressing each plot as an individual, adding a level of almost unparalleled finesse to the wines they produce. The Mirium is their signature wine, with grapes from 60 to 80 year old vines grown at 925m with very low yields.
This was one of only three wines to gain 98 points from Atkin, and I can fully concur with his joy in the lifting herbal and fennel perfume on the nose. I was very impressed by how “together” this wine was for such a young vintage and will definitely be keeping my eye out for older vintages to try. Tim Atkin MW 98 points
Bodegas Felix Callejo, Majuelos De Callejo Cosecha 2020
Based in the village of Sotillo de la Ribera in Burgos province, Majuelos de Callejo is a single vineyard expression of Tinta Fina from a site in the village boundaries, at around 900m in altitude. The slope of the vineyard takes in both calcareous soils in the higher areas as well as sandy and stony soils to the lower parts, adding blending options and nuance to the wine. The thing standing out here was the redness of the fruit following tasting glass upon glass of dark, brooding fruit notes in the other wines. A different style to most other wines on the table, but equally beautifully balanced and high end. Tim Atkin MW 96 points
Viñedos y Bodegas García Figuero, Milagros de Figuero Cosecha 2020
A family-run operation in La Horra in Burgos province, this producer controls around 80 hectares of vines, mostly over 60 years old, with some much older. The Milagros comes from some of the older vines planted at a relatively low 800m in altitude. 16 months in 500 litre French barrels still allows for the concentrated forest fruits to dominate, but adding the complexity of smoke and cigar box to keep your palate sharp through to glass number two…or even three! Tim Atkin MW 96 points
Dominio De Atauta La Mala Cosecha 2017
Set up in the eastern Soria province as recently as 1999, Dominio de Atauta makes full use of its old vine stocks, many of which are pre-phylloxera. The vineyards are at around 1000m above sea level and the impressive diurnal range, coupled with the aged nature of the vines, gives crops of low yields with big flavour. This wine, from a small 0.7 hectare plot, was almost Rhône-esque with the vibrant black fruits, herbal notes and coating vibrant tannins. Tim Atkin MW 97 points
Bodegas Áster Finca El Otero Cosecha 2019
Bodegas Áster was a project begun in 1990 by the famous La Rioja Alta from Haro. They bought up land around Anguix in 1990 and began planting, releasing their first labelled wines in 2000. The Finca El Otero is their single vineyard expression, with 16 months in French oak. As the years go by, the vines mature, and the wines keep improving. Again, despite the fact we could wax lyrical about the brooding dark fruit and balanced alcoholic heat on the palate, it was the lifting floral notes and herbal tones throughout that made this a real pleasure to drink. Tim Atkin MW 97 points
My top picks from ‘Ribera on a budget’
As I’ve mentioned, it’s in the fine wine world that Ribera has really made a name for itself. That’s a good thing. Whilst other regions in the world clamber to prove they produce much more than the high volume, export-focused wines that made them famous, Ribera del Duero’s reputation is sitting pretty on top of the margin-tree. But that’s not to say great quality isn’t produced at the less premium end too.
This year an additional list of 30 “Ribera del Duero on a Budget” wines was released. These wines all gained over 90 points from Atkin and are available in Spain at under €12 retail. I tried my way through these too and found three really great wines available to the UK trade.
Bodegas Protos, Ecológico 9 Meses 2020
Bodegas Protos are one of the larger producers in the region, but still maintains good quality throughout the range. This organic wine is 100% Tempranillo, with a healthy 14% abv. Both the 2020 and the 2021 made the list, and I slightly disagreed with Atkin as I preferred the 2020 as although both showed a happy concentration of bramble, black and red plums, and spicy black pepper, I felt the 2020 had more integrated alcohol and tannin structure giving a rounder, more crowd-pleasing palate. Spanish RRP €11.90, UK importer: Bibendum
Bodegas Torrederos, Torrederos Crianza 2018
Torrederos are another fairly decent sized producer, owning more than 100 hectares of Tinto Fino, all planted within a stone’s throw from the winery. The 12 months in oak here are a mix of French and American giving nice blends of sweet spice and coconut on the nose, but the dark plums, cherries, bramble and balsamic notes dominate the long finish. Really nice Crianza style. Spanish RRP €11.00, UK importer: Friarwood
Rippa Dorii, Roble Tempranillo 2020
Roble simply means the wine has had an unspecified amount of time in oak, but either it wasn’t long enough to be Crianza or it wasn’t in specified size of barrel. At this price I’d imagine barriques (or similar) might be a stretch for the accountant, but whatever they’ve used it means you still get a wine full of brambles, black cherry, and lifting sage herbal kick, but with smoky and liquorice flavours too. A steal at this price. Spanish RRP €7.00, UK importer: Boutinot
For further information about the Wines of Ribera Del Duero or to receive Tim Atkin MW’s Top 100 list of wines, please contact Claire White at Cube Communitcations on email@example.com
To purchase Tim Aktin MW’s full 2022 Ribera Del Duero Report, including his detailed views on the current state and future opportunities for the region, head over to www.timatkin.com
Mike Turner is a freelance writer, presenter, and educator and regular contributor for The Buyer. He also runs a wine events business, Feel Good Grapes, that explores and discusses the idea of sustainability in the wine trade.