In North-Central Spain, we find the Duero River Valley and the wine appellations of Castilla y León and stretching north to Bierzo. These deep river valleys encompass some of the most celebrated wine regions in all of Spain, from the mountains of the Sistema Ibérico and winding all the way to the Portuguese city of Oporto, where the Duero (there called the Douro) empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The downriver regions are known for producing Portugal’s famous fortified wine, known as Port, and the steep, terraced riverbanks on which its vineyards are planted are seen as being very difficult to work, though that certainly hasn’t impeded the centuries old production in the region. Travelling upriver into Spain, these valleys become even steeper, with high altitudes bringing more sun exposure during the day, along with cooler days and evenings. The longer, cooler growing season contributes to the complexity of the resulting wines, however with temperatures and weather in general being so much more unpredictable in the mountains, there are years in which the grapes have little chance of ripening fully.
Throughout history, it is a region that has been ravaged by war. Snugly nestled between the mountain ranges of the Sierra de Guadarrama and Sierra de Gredos to the south, and the Sierras de la Demanda and Sierra de Cantábria to the north, there is evidence of Roman presence as well as of Napoleon’s War of Independence and El Cid’s lifelong battles in support of Spanish unification. You will find some of Spain’s most celebrated wine regions here, the Ribero del Duero, Rueda and Toro, as well as its most famous wine estate, Vega Sicilia.
Toro is known for its bold, tannic and deeply coloured red wines, each bearing a signature spicy note. Some of the oldest vines in all of Spain are found here, its primary grape being its own particular clone of Tempranillo, called Tinto de Toro.
Ribera del Duero
Ribera wines are primarily from Tempranillo, and are full bodied and modern in style, very similar to Rioja although slightly more rustic. Having been grown in higher altitudes, the wines exhibit more complexity than the inland wines of Rioja, with higher acidity and tannins that allow them to develop with age. Known for its top quality Tempranillo and Garnacha, you’ll find the wines to be mostly single varietal as opposed to a blend, and will be classified with the terms Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva to denote their aging processes and oak influence. One more major difference between Ribera del Duero and Rioja is that you will find more American oak influence in Rioja, while Ribera wines tend to use more French oak. This results in a much different texture and flavour profile, the Ribera wines much more polished and modern in style, and possessing the flavour characteristics of vanilla and exotic spices like clove and cinnamon.
It should be mentioned that Tempranillo is grown throughout Spain, as it ripens earlyand easily, doing remarkably well in every sort of aspect and climate. Theregions of La Mancha and Valdepeñas offer more affordable and verycharming Tempranillo wines that are just slightly oaked andcrafted for short-term enjoyment.
© Picture: Bodegas Portia
by Rafael Segovia, Wine Enthusiast