A somewhat underwhelming visit to Ribera del Duero

I just got back from a week in Ribera. I had a fantastic time. The countryside was beautiful, the people were extremely nice and hospitable, and the chorizo & manchego plates couldn’t be beat. The only disappointments were the weather (it was chilly and overcast for 4-5 days, and even snowed one morning) and, for the most part, the wines. No, Ribera’s not Rioja–it only became an appellation in 1982. But leaving aside Vega Sicilia, which is made in a completely different style, I found the majority of the wines very New World in style: purple, primary, anonymous mixed dark fruit, on the extracted side, with a strong dose of oak. Their structure was slightly different than what you’d find in the southern hemisphere or some parts of CA, with a bit more acidity and less tannin, but that was the only hint of recognizable typicity. That may be in part because I was drinking young vintages, but even the 1996 I had wasn’t overwhelmingly distinctive.

Did I just visit the wrong wineries? Do people here know any non V-S Ribera wines they think they might be able to pick blind out of a lineup? (Pesquera leaps to mind, but they only served an '07 during my visit). Or has this region just not found its own expression yet? For what it’s worth, the Vega-Sicilia executive I met said that it would be extremely difficult economically for a new producer to make wine in a “classic” style there, because no one will buy a hitherto unknown wine that isn’t ready to drink when it’s sold, and no startup venture has deep enough pockets to wait a decade aging its wines before releasing them like V-S does.

I’ve been similarly disappointed too often, even with older vintages. Too many of the wines from the mid-90s that seemed promising never evolved into anything that interesting. One recent exception: the 96 Mauro regular bottling, which is drinking beautifully. (OK, technically it’s not Ribera, but that’s a technicality.)

By coincidence, when I flew into Madrid on Good Friday in 1998 there were snow flakes in the air as we landed.

Thanks for the tip! The V-S executive mentioned to me that Mauro is made by the former V-S winemaker, and said it was “more classic,” though it would never be confused for V-S itself. You wouldn’t happen to have any more bottles of it floating around, would you? :slight_smile:

I enjoy the occasional RdD wine, but I think your description is pretty apt: “purple, primary, anonymous mixed dark fruit, on the extracted side, with a strong dose of oak.”

Nice wines offering decent to sometimes very good QPR in the $15-35 range, but it doesn’t seem like there is a lot of differentiation between them. In a sense, a bit like first discovering New Zealand sauvignon blanc – at first, the flavor profile is fun and a bit different, and the value seems good, but then the more of them you try, the less interested you are.

I’m glad to hear you found the people welcoming – I often hear Americans go to Spain and have the opposite experience, though that is probably from their experiences in the major cities, and rural wine country is generally friendlier anywhere you go, whether the US, Italy, France, or wherever.


Did you go to Pesquera? I’ve never been, but I really enjoy the wines. Recently had an 01 Crianza that showed very well. I have a passive cellar that I use for short/intermediate ageing, and the wine spent all of its time there where temp moves between 62 and 66. The wine was remarkable, dark fruit, a bit of vanilla, rich palate and showed little sign of ageing. A 94 Reserva a couple of months ago also showed extremely well. I also enjoy Aalto which is more mdoern, Alion and the already mentioned Mauro.

See above. I did indeed go to Pesquera, but didn’t get to try any back vintages. The 07 Reserva was unremarkable.

Who did you visit?

Alion, Resalte, Emilio Moro and AAalto have always been solid in my opinion.

I enjoy a couple wineries’ juice but I know what you mean. Not only are most RdD’s not very distinctive, they’re are frequently expensive.

I’ve got Valduero, Federico and Pesquera in my stash. I’m particularly fond of Federico. Their 2009 Tinto Roble is great deal at less than $20.

When I’m in the mood for something big, fruity and modern, I’ve got a case of 2004 Finca Villacreces.

I did go to Moro. I don’t know Resalte, but the other 3 are well-known expensive modernist producers. I skipped AAlto because I imagined it would be interchangeable with Moro, and didn’t go to Alion because the Vega-Sicilia people were kind enough to meet me at the flagship winery instead.

Never heard of either Valduero or Federico. Link me a tasting note or two?

I passed by Villacreces a lot; they’re immediately adjacent to Vega-Sicilia. Just shows you what different winemaking styles can do with the same terroir…

Regarding Valduero, below is an old post by Joe Manekin (K&L’s Spanish and Portugese wine buyer) on his personal blog regarding his visit to give you an idea. TNs on CT are sparse.

Bodegas Federico is owned by Federico Fernandez, brother of Alejandro Fernandez (owner of Pesquera). Apparently, when the family business split, Alejandro got the name and Federico got the vineyards. There are more TNs for the wines on CT than for Valduero.

I found some of my old TNs but I don’t think they are very useful. I don’t taste many RdD’s and only a small subset of those stand out for me. These are the ones I buy. To try to qualify that better:

  • I like at least some American oak on tempranillo. Valduero uses a combination of French, American, and Slovenian. Hard to say about the Slovenian oak though. They may use a combination of non-French European sources. Federico seems to use 100% American.

  • I like acidity. The Italian portion of my cellar is approaching 60%. I’ve found both of these producers deliver plenty of tannins and acid.

Dan – I should have given credit to Pesquera, whose wines I tend to like. And I was just checking my tasting notes and discovered that the first time we met a year ago, with David Zylberberg at Atrium, I brought a 94 Pesquera Crianza, which was slightly corked but lovely enough that we nonetheless drank it. I had another bottle of that seven years earlier which was nice, too. But the 96 was very disappointing a few years ago. I bought some of the 05 Crianza, which seemed very promising.

I am also an acid fan and primarily an Italian drinker. I thought most of the wines I tried had decent acid levels so they didn’t taste sloppy, but the only one where it was a notable strength was the Valbuena.

And John, I later picked up a bottle of 94 Pesquera crianza from CSW that was faaaaaaabulous, and proved that the underlying wine was as delish as you suspected.