Guide to Wine from Castilla y Leon
Before flowing into Portugal and giving life to the legendary port, the River Duero runs through the ancient kingdom of Castile through a landscape of cereal plains and vineyards, broken here and there by the silhouette of a medieval castle silhouetted against an intense blue sky.
The Spanish side of the Duero holds a privileged position for the production of some truly exceptional wines where mist clings to clusters of grapes, caressing and characterising them, bringing a blend of vigor and delicacy.
Wines from this region can be traced back to the monks of Cluny, who came to the Iberian Peninsula along the Santiago Way, bringing with them the vines that would give rise to the magnificent Tinto Fino variety, basis of the Ribera del Duero’s finest wines.
The Ribera del Duero region approached quality from a completely new angle and has been closely followed by Rioja. Almost the same can be said of the Rueda’s wines in the Verdejo variety, rediscovered by the Bordeaux savant Emile Peynaud, which are among the most attractive ones in the country.
The reds from Toro have a potential which is hard to beat. The same, though at a more modest level, could be said of the wines made from the Mencia grape in Bierzo, or the clarets and reds from the emerging region of Cigales.
Ribera del Duero
The Ribera del Duero aims to turn this young D.O into an elite wine producing region with a production area of 15,000 hectares. The Ribera’s current success rests on the rise of the Tinta del Pais or Tinto Fino grape from its vineyards.
Almost all of the wineries have based their activity on the Tinto Fino, wines rich in color and body and reds with a toasty and mature aroma.
The Verdejo variety currently occupies more than half the vineyards in the region of Rueda. It’s a traditional variety in these lands lying on the left bank of the Duero, and is vigorous and rustic, showing its true splendor at around 13 degrees of alcohol. For young wines, the Verdejo brings breeding and stability to the harvests.
It is a wine that is captivating to the nose, wafting delicate vegetative aromas such as anise and hay. In the mouth, it is fresh with a characteristic bitter finish which adds eloquence to the wine and the white grape brings big personality.
The winemakers of Rueda are also taking an increasing interest in another variety, the Sauvignon Blanc, which does such wonders in the Loire and in Graves, with the aim of enriching and broadening Spain’s menu of white wines.
This region uses its evocative name as a major asset in promoting its wines at home and boasts an extensive winegrowing tradition. Torro appeared as one of the main Spanish regions in the 1932 Wine Statute, but the transition to modern times and techniques has been slow.
The Tinta de Toro, first cousin to the Tinto Fino, is the most sought-after grape among those who are pursuing quality. Although the Cabernet Sauvignon is not far behind.
Some wineries have been willing to jump on the Duero’s bandwagon, alongside the Aranda and Penafiel reds, so as to lift Toro out of its relative obscurity. But the fact is that the Ribera and Toro are two completely different areas, in terms of microclimate, soil type affecting alcohol content, acidity and extract.