Ribera del Duero Wine Tour
Although the region has more than 2,000 years of history making wine, Ribera del Duero only became a denomination of origin (DO) in 1982. Since then, the number of wineries has grown exponentially.
Today, wines of Ribera del Duero have an extremely high reputation in the world. Names such as Vega Sicilia and Dominio de Pingus are known to wine connoisseurs around the world.
Even though the region is dominated by red wines, Ribera white wines (Ribera blanco) are also produced, typically made from Albillo grapes. In other words, if you love white wines, you will find them around here as well!
Our wine tour to Ribera del Duero in late September began as we left Madrid to cross the north-western corner of Spain’s great central plateau towards Valladolid. The journey takes you through rugged mountain ranges with extraordinary views, before descending into the Duero Valley as you approach the town of Aranda at the eastern end of the Ribera del Duero region. From here the road follows a straight line hugging the river through Peñafiel into the heart of Ribera and on to Valladolid at its eastern end. En route to Valladolid, we had the pleasure of our first winery tour and tasting before heading to our hotel which would be our base for the trip.
The ensuing four days would see us visiting another eight wineries throughout the whole Ribera region, including Rueda, where the Verdejo grape dominates to produce fine, aromatic white wines. This made an interesting change to the big reds we tasted throughout the rest of the tour! Ribera wines are almost all tempranillo. Even more than Rioja, the temple of tempranillo, Ribera is where this grape’s most diehard fans flock. The land is arid and dry, with a continental climate influenced by Spain’s rocky central meseta plateau. The wines here are aged in the same manner as in Rioja, the region’s neighbour to the north. Bottles are labelled according to how long they spend ageing in oak and on the shelf. Crianza, reserva, and gran reserva wines all indicate wine that has spent considerable time in the barrel.
The wines here are powerful and aromatic. Aside from the typical “cigar box” flavours of tempranillo, Ribera is full of black fruit, and a distinct mocha, cappuccino aroma. They’re often compared to Argentinian Malbec, for their lively acidity and their powerful youthful fruit that develops into spice and leather with age. Modern styles are usually 100% Tempranillo, emphasizing the grape’s full potential, with six months to a year spent in new French oak.
The area that Jancis Robinson unflatteringly called a “barren plateau between Valladolid and Aranda” is full of castles and vineyards, segmented in two by 70 miles of the flowing Duero river.
The wine production is based around a handful of main towns. The most important are Peñafiel in the west, Roa in the north, and San Esteban de Gormaz in the east. And so it would have been wrong if we hadn’t taken a trip to Peñafiel, visited a couple of wineries and then explored Peñafiel Castle for a couple of hours! Built atop a 10th century fortress, the current castle (built in the 15th century by Don Pedro Girón, master of the Calatrava Order) has evolved through the centuries and was declared a national monument in 1917. It’s often compared to a battleship because of its long narrow structure. The stunning views looking out onto the Duratón and Botijas valleys were of strategic importance during the Reconquista; this really is a place worth visiting!
There is no better way to start a day than combining chocolate syrup and a doughnut – Spanish churros! Follow that with some seafood tapas for lunch, and kick off the evening with Sangria. We all know you should never drink on an empty stomach and that certainly wasn’t a problem in Ribera del Duero. This rural region has fantastic local food; roast suckling pig is a speciality in this part of Spain, and was some of the best we tried – which is saying something!
I absolutely can not say enough about the wines of Ribera del Duero, and there are so many more regions to unveil! If you are as spellbound by wine as much as we are, we’d be happy to customise a Ribera del Duero wine tour for you to discover your favourite wines of the region. Or if you would like to join us and other like-minded wine friends, please check periodically for our wine tour updates which always sell out very quickly.