Ribera Roaming

(by susie)

While the rest of the UK wine trade is in Bordeaux slurping and spitting the much-touted 2009 vintage, I’m currently roaming around Ribera del Duero in north central Spain – as you will know from Peter’s recent posts on the site.

And very happy I am to be here too, though I’m not sure my teeth are any less black for it – wow these are seriously big wines.

For those who don’t know the region, Ribera lies in north central Spain and straddles the banks of the River Duero (which becomes Portugal’s famous Douro as it crosses the border heading west). It’s an area that has only become famous for its world-class red wines (made from Tempranillo, or Tinto Fino as it’s known here) over the past 20-30 years.

In terms of general wine style, where Rioja is best known for soft, ruby-hued, coconut and sour cherry-scented wines, Ribera produces a more deeply-coloured, structured and powerful version of Tempranillo. The grape is also more likely to appear as a solo variety in Ribera than in Rioja, and when it is blended you’ll find Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Ribera mix rather than the Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano of Rioja.

One of the most famous wines of the region is Vega Sicilia – which incidentally doesn’t conform to any style generalisations. It was first made over a century and a half ago and this morning I was lucky enough to find myself tasting the 2000 vintage of ‘Unico’ (VS’s top wine). Still a baby, it was so beautifully structured, harmonious and complete – full of superb Spanish character in its dense spice, plum and game flavours – a wine that will continue to develop and delight for decades. In the past I’ve also tasted Unico 1987 (in a little restaurant in Salamanca on the eve of our engagement) and Unico 1996 – both of which showed what amazing aging potential this wine has, and just how consistently delicious it is.

Not content to taste only one of the region’s iconic wines, however, after a full day of visits I finished off on another high with Peter Sisseck’s extraordinary Pingus (2004). A totally different style of wine, it is dense, dark and brooding with a firm backbone of velvet-smooth tannin. One to lay down for quite some time.

Other highlights of my trip so far have been Hacienda Monasterio 1998 and 2007 (also made by Peter Sisseck and his right-hand man Carlos de la Fuente), Alión 2006 (from Vega Sicilia’s most recent project in Ribera), María 08 (Alonso del Yerro), 12 Años Valduero Gran Reserva 1996, Joven de Silos 2009, Pesus 06 (Hermanos Sastre) and Perez Pascuas 01 Gran Reserva.

One thing that virtually all of Ribera’s wines have in common is high alcohol, sometimes it works but all too often it compromises the balance of the wine for alcohol-sensitive souls like me.

As a final note, before I head off to find out more about this intriguing region and its wines, for anyone planning to attend the Fine Wine Conference here in Ribera at the end of April, news arrived yesterday of a fire at the venue. As a result it seems likely there may be a change of location. Anyone for a large glass of ‘smoky’ Ribera?