Ribera Del Duero
The second of Spain’s ‘big’ rivers is the Duero, known when it enters Portugal as the Douro, the river which provides us with Port. From San Esteban de Gormaz in the east to Valbuena de Duero in the west, on both banks of the river, is the region of Ribera del Duero. It produces splendid red wines, historically from 100% Tempranillo, but now including cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the blend. The soil is very similar to that of the Port region, sharing the same basin, and so it produces wines of very good quality. The vines are grown at altitudes between 750 metres and 800 metres. The season is short, and although daytime temperatures can exceed 40º, the risk of frost is the major threat. The advantage of these difficult growing conditions is that you don’t have people piling in to produce lower quality wines; it wouldn’t pay them. It does mean though that you are unlikely to find a cheap bottle of Ribera. The same categories (Joven, etc) are used as in Rioja, but the majority of production is Joven, and Gran Reservas are very rare indeed. Which brings us inevitably to D. Eloy Lacanda Chaves. This gentleman was a landowner at Valbuena who went to France in the middle of the nineteenth century to study winemaking. Impressed by what he learned in Bordeaux, he lavished the same care and attention on the Tempranillo grape and produced what to this day is Spain’s most prestigious and most expensive wine, a large proportion of which goes straight to the cellars of King Juan Carlos. The wine is Vega Sicilia. It is produced in two versions. Único, its first wine, and Valbuena, its second. I just checked the internet. A bottle of Vega Sicilia Único will cost you around 200€, more in a good year. Valbuena retails at around 90€ a bottle. If you can’t run to those kinds of prices, look out for wines produced by Tintas Pesquera, Arzuaga, Pago de Carraovejas, Protos, Tarsus, or Señorio de Nava, though in truth it’s hard to go wrong if the label says Ribera del Duero.