Tasting and Tapas: DO Ribera del Duero

November 24, 2020

On the last Saturday in April, Saturday 24th, we put away our witches hats from Galicia and our hipster fedoras from Priorat and we don our most regal crowns as we travel to DO Ribera del Duero located in the heart of Castilla, or land of castles in English. Ribera del Duero occupies 4 Spanish provinces: Burgos, Valladolid, Segovia, and Soria in the autonomous community of Castilla y León. As the name of the area suggests, it is famous for the abundance of castles that permeate its landscape, the most famous one being the Peñafiel castle, which has been converted into a wine museum and houses the Protos winery beneath it.

Ribera del Duero has an incredibly long history of winemaking, dating back 2500 years. As unbelievable as this sounds, Raúl told us there are Roman ruins to prove it. In Valladolid, at the archeological site of Pintia, there is evidence of wine making and consumption and, in the town of Baños de Valdearados, a Roman mosaic was discovered portraying the Roman god of wine, Bacchus. 

Despite this historical connection to winemaking, Ribera del Duero only became an appellation in 1982, so is relatively young as a recognized wine region. At this time, 5 established wineries in the region, Ismael Arroyo (Valsotillo), Alejandro Fernández of Pesquera, Hermanos Pérez Pascuas Pedrosa, Torremilanos, and García Aranda, came together and all asked the Protos winery, who at the time had been calling themselves Cooperativa Ribera del Duero, if they could use the name Ribera del Duero, as the region had long been associated with that name. Protos acquiesced and ever so humbly declared themselves renamed “Protos” or “The First” in Latin.  Truth be told, they were not really the first winery in the region, as Vega Sicilia had been producing fine wine since the middle of the 19th century.

Raúl told us the fascinating story of two of Ribera del Duero’s true visionaries: Alejandro Fernández and Emilio Moro. In the middle of the 20th century, a sugar beet factory was built in the area and families were asked to pull up their vines and replace them with sugar beet plants. Considering this the economically safe choice, most landowners enthusiastically obliged. A few men, however, like Emilio Moro and Alejandro Fernández, saw this as a horrible mistake and instead, going out on a limb, asked these same families to sell them their land with the vines intact.  This saved many vines from an untimely death and lined up the men to become two of the major players in the winemaking business of the region. 

Somehow saved from the sugar beet craze and subsequent vine massacre was a valley in an area of Burgos now known as the golden triangle of grapes. Most wine lovers have heard of the golden mile of wineries in Valladolid, but Raúl really wants us to know about this area, as it is where the best grapes can be found. The golden triangle of grapes, where landowners had not been asked to pull up their vines to plant sugar beets, contains the oldest vines of the region. The towns of La Horra, Roa, Sotillo, Anguix, and Aguilera make up this grape oasis. Raúl tells us that all of the important winemakers, if they do not already have their winery located on this land, travel here to buy grapes.  Raúl also told us that the name “golden triangle of grapes” was given by the renowned sommelier, formerly of El Bulli restaurant, Ferran Centelles. He was given a blind taste test of wines of Ribera del Duero and his top 5 choices all contained grapes from this specific area, prompting him to give it its lofty nickname.

What specifically are the grapes being grown in the region you might ask? Well, Raúl tells us that Ribera del Duero is all about the Tempranillo and Albillo. In fact, wines from the region must contain a minimum of 75 percent tempranillo. Shockingly, white wine only started being produced there two years ago! DO Ribera del Duero has become famous for its red wines containing mostly the tempranillo grape variety, also known as tinto fino or tinta del pais, as well as clarete and rosé.

Finally, Raúl urges us, when we are finally able, to visit the 16th century underground cellars at the winery of Ismael Arroyo.  According to Raúl, the region had historically always stored and aged wine in subterranean cellars beneath small hills. However, this method of wine storage was abandoned in the 1950s and 60s when new technology was introduced and had been almost entirely forgotten until 1979 when Ismael Arroyo and his two sons, Miguel Angel and Ramón, embraced the tradition and dug out these centuries old tunnels to create their truly beautiful wine cellars.

Join us Saturday, April 24th, as we raise a glass of Ribera del Duero to toast these visionaries and brave winemakers and learn to prepare the perfect bite to go alongside our bottle! We will ALSO be comparing Ribera to it’s biggest competition, Rioja!


By Meg Emmitt!

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