About 80 miles north of Madrid, Ribera del Duero is a 70-mile-long region along the Duero River in north central Spain. It received formal status in 1982 and is almost exclusively a red wine region. The major grape is tinto fino, a genetic variation of tempranillo. This clone makes thicker textured and bolder, more rustic flavored wines than does the tempranillo grape grown in Rioja.
Ribera del Duero is a region of harsh intensity with blistering summers and winters that are fiercely cold. The tinto fino is a grape variety that thrives on such stress, creating wines that are not shy. The best reds are deeply concentrated, fleshy, ripe and structured, without being aggressive, tannic or alcoholic. They tend to be dark and smell like wet, rich earth. Their tastes are big, with dark fruit, like blackberries and blueberries. There is often a hint of chocolate and often quite a bit of sage. They can have a great deal of Bordeaux-like structure; nice edges and complex layers of taste. Two Ribera del Duero wines -- Vega-Sicilia and Pesquera -- are among the most outstanding red wines anywhere in the world.
Like Rioja, Ribera del Duero wines are classified according to the quality of the grapes and how long the wines are aged. Wines fall into the categories crianza, the youngest; reserva; and gran reserva. Crianzas are easy-drinking wines that come from good but not exceptional vineyards and must be aged a minimum of two years. Reservas come from superior grapes grown at better sites and must be aged a minimum of three years. Reservas have fuller, fleshier textures and greater depth, concentration and intensity. Coming from the very best vineyards, gran reservas are the most polished and refined wines of all. They are aged at least five years, giving them a special harmony and subtlety that only aged wines possess. The reservas and gran reservas are usually made only in above-average years and they represent just a small percent of all the wine made in the region.
Ribera del Duero is a substantial wine that requires substantial meals, from veal and peppers, paella or roast lamb to steak. The wines from this region are far more available than ever at local wine shops as the production and producers have increased.
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