Ribera del Duero

The wine region of Ribera del Duero is located along the river Duero in Spain’s northern plateau and is an important wine-producing area in Castilla y Leon.

The area specialises in red Tempranillo and has hundreds of years of experience in producing world-renowned wines.

Wine production in Ribera goes back at least 2,000 years according to archaeological records, however, the region was quite quiet, especially in the wine industry, until the middle ages. It is said that it truly took shape in the region with the Benedictine monks based in Cluny, Burgundy in the 1200s. The monks of Cluny had perfected the art of wine making, and were famous for it throughout Europe, and spread their knowledge to others. During this time, wine was considered sacred, symbolising the blood of Christ, and wine production took hold across Europe.

In the 1800s, the Lecanda family founded a winery on the Duero River, and planted international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec, which was rather unusual for Spain in that era. The winery was called Vega Sicilia, which was an island of hidden wine production in an unknown region of Spain for a century.

Phylloxera devastated Vega Sicilia in 1898, coinciding with the Spanish-American War and the loss two of Spain’s colonies, Cuba and the Philippines. After the phylloxera crisis, Vega Sicilia worked to regain its prestige with help from a Basque winemaker named Txomin Garramiola. While Vega Sicilia earned a reputation in the 20th century throughout Spain, the rest of the region still remained relatively unknown.

In 1982, a group of wine producers and growers banded together and applied for the Denominacion de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero, the official appellation of Spain. Determined to promote the quality of their wines and further the region’s reputation, they received the D.O. and since then wines from Ribera have been growing in both reputation and quality.

Due to Ribera’s inland location and the sheltering effects of two nearby mountain ranges, the region has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and harsh winters. The temperature ranges from near freezing temperatures to 40C, and winter and spring frosts can threaten the grapes.

However, Ribera receives more than 2,400 hours of sunlight annually and only about 450 mm of rainfall per year. This is ideal for grape growing, as the high amounts of sunlight allow the grapes to ripen fully. Too much rain dilutes the flavours of the grapes, throws off the sugar/acid balance in the fruit, and can cause the grapes to split or become mouldy.

Ribera del Duero has about 270 wineries, with about 22,250 hectares of vineyards, up from nine wineries and about 6,000 hectares when it received its D.O. in 1982. Ribera is completely devoted to red wine, with 95% of all grapes grown being Tempranillo. According to its D.O. regulations, Tempranillo must make up at least 75% of all red wines from the area.

Additional grapes grown in the area are Cabernet, Merlot, and Malbec.

Wines from this area also go through a long ageing process, which is just as important a part of their D.O. appellation as what grapes the wines are made from.

Tempranillo is the dominant grape in the region, not least of all because of the requirements of its D.O. designation.

This variety of grape has a thick skin and ripens quickly, which is beneficial in an area with such an extreme climate, particularly the very hot summers. Its natural flavour and fruitiness allows it to be mixed easily with other grapes, which some vintners in the area do, although the vast majority produce only single vineyard wines.

35% of the vines in the area are aged 25 years or older. Older vines have deeper roots, which help to keep them nourished in the difficult climate. The older vines in this region produce smaller fruit, but have the reputation of producing a more structured, balanced wine.

Wines made from Tempranillo in Ribera are full-bodied with deep colour. They have a firm tannin structure and aromas of mulberry and blackberry, as well as notes of warm spices, leather, and tobacco.

The winery Vega Sicilia is now one of most recognised wineries in the world, and the wines they produce are some of the most highly valued red wines on the market. Vega Sicilia’s Unico, its Gran Reserva, is the winery’s most notable wine, typically only released 10 years after vintage. In some cases the wine will not be released until at least 15 years after vintage. Some of Vega Sicilia’s customers include the British Royal family and Alex Ferguson.

Located in the very centre of Ribera del Duero, Pago de los Capellanes is a relatively new winery that has already made a name for itself as the modern face of the region. They make wines here that reflect the area’s traditions, while also moving forward into new territory.

Some other notable wineries (or bodegas, as they’re called) include, Dominio de Pingus, Bodegas Alion, and Hacienda Monasterio.