Ribera del Duero – Affordable Tempranillo

When it comes to red wines, Spain is known for two primary regions – Rioja and Priorat.  And just as Priorat has Montsant as its more affordable cousin, Rioja has Ribera del Duero. That said, some of Spain’s top producers are found here – the wines of Vega Sicilia, Moro, Pesquera and Pingus are highly sought after by international collectors and compete for their cellar space with the best of Rioja.

As with Rioja, Tempranillo dominates the wines of Ribera del Duero. Red wines are required to contain at least 75%Tempranillo, with the remainder being limited to a small group of acceptable blending grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec, with up to 5% being allowed from Garnacha or Albillo (the only white grape allowed by DO regulations). Albillo is used to soften red wines to allow for more near-term drinking, and to lift the aromatics. Visitors to Ribera del Duero may find the Albillo bottled as a white wine, but it’s not allowed for sale outside the region.

Ribera del Duero is located just West and a bit South of its more famous sibling, Rioja. (map by Wine Scholar Guild – a great resource for your wine curiosity)

I was recently sent three bottles of Ribero del Duero wines to review, priced between $17 and $24.  In general, they are an exceptional value for fans of the new world style – that is to say, big fruit and tons of oak influence – which is odd, as Spain is and old world wine producer by any measure.  But Rioja started the love affair with oak, particularly American oak, and Ribera del Duero is following suit.

The one delicious exception to this rule was the distinctive Tempranillo (100%) from Bodegas Torremorón, both for its unique approach to production and its story.

Unique Production Approach

The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks before filtration and bottling without any time spent in oak. This lack of oak influence and the old vines (some as old as 112 years – note the gnarled vine on the wine’s label, above) yields a wine offering a pure Tempranillo experience like no other I’ve tasted. Bright, crackling fruit flavors are balanced by noticeable tannins in this young wine (2018) yielding a light-to-medium-bodied wine with a modest 13% ABV. Some dusty earth notes come through on the mid-palate leading to a finish featuring earthy beets, cigar box /sweet spices. A good food wine for lighter dishes such as grilled meats and roast poultry. You can find this wine for under $20. Sorry, I don’t have it in stock.

Unique Story

Founded in 1957, Bodegas Torremorón is a cooperative of growers and vintners who craft pure examples of high-elevation Tempranillo. Travellers to this remote location in the north-central area of Ribera del Duero will find the very tiny village of Quintanamanvirgo (population 94). Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. Bodegas Torremorón is one of only two businesses in town, and all 94 locals work for the winery! I can’t imagine living in a town of 94 and working for the same enterprise. Do they gossip about who has the most lowest picking metrics, or who slept through their early-morning punch-down duty? Doesn’t the thought of it make you want to visit, to see this place yourself? I’ll go with you, once we can travel again.

The vineyards, which range in age from 80 to 100 years old, reside just outside town in the province of Burgos. At an elevation of 2,703 feet, the grapes benefit from a continental climate featuring hot days and cool nights throughout the growing season; the moderately low annual rainfall lengthens the ripening period, resulting in greater complexity and aromatic intensity in the grapes. Consequently, these wines are darker and more concentrated than those from the west side of Ribera del Duero.

Of the three wine samples we tasted, all under $30 at full retail, this was by far the most interesting. I encourage you to seek it out. And if you love Tempranillo but thought you couldn’t afford them, many wines from Ribera del Duero producers offer great value relative to their pricier cousins from Rioja.