Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Drink Ribera

American wine drinkers sometimes find wines from other countries a little hard to navigate.  The labels are written in languages you may not understand, using terminology you may not be familiar with even if you speak the language.  That's why it's a good idea to pursue opportunities to expand your knowledge of wine the world over.

Los Angeles was treated to the Drink Ribera Workshop recently.  The event spotlighted the wines of the Spanish wine region Ribera del Duero on May 2, 2011 at SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills.  There were not an extraordinary number of wineries - bodegas - represented, but the turnout was good and the tasters seemed to enjoy the wines quite a bit.

Immersing yourself in the wines of other countries at events like Drink Ribera is the best way I know to become more familiar with these wines and expand your knowledge base.

The event had one facet which I have not noticed at other wine shows presenting wines from other countries in America.  In addition to the tables for each winery that already has representation in the U.S., there was a large table with bottles from wineries seekingrepresentation.  There were some importers tasting and discussing the wines, and I hope some struggling Ribera winemakers end up with American distribution as a result.

Ribera del Duero is located in Spain’s northern plateau, about an hour and a half from Madrid.  The region is about 71 miles long and 22 miles wide and covers four provinces of Castilla y León - Burgos, Segovia, Soria and Valladolid.  Ribera - meaning "river bank" - lies along the Duero River Valley.  Ribera benefits from the great diversity of the soils on both banks of the river.

The average altitude of the vineyards in Ribera is 2750 feet, with some at over 3000 feet above sea level.  The area has dry summers in which temperatures can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and long harsh winters that can send the temperature down to below zero.  Ribera only gets an average of 17 inches of rain per year.  Winemaking in Ribera dates back 2,000 years.

The short growing season of Ribera del Duero, combined with the diverse soils and modest rainfall make Ribera a good place to make wine of rich intensity.  Ribera's main grape - Tempranillo - is an early ripening grape well suited for the conditions there.

Wines produced in Ribera del Duero fall under several designations:

Joven - No oak is used in producing Jovan wines, which are typically fruity and intended for immediate consumption.

Crianza - These are aged for two years with a minimum of twelve months in oak barrels.

Reserva - Aged three years with a minimum of twelve months in oak barrels.

Gran Reserva - These wines are made in select vintage years only. They are aged a minimum of five years with twenty-four months in oak barrels minimum followed by additional bottle aging.

Rosado - Rosé wines are fermented without the skin of the grape and are available shortly after the harvest.

Here are five favorites I sampled at the Drink Ribera Workshop:

Bodega San Roque de la Encina
Monte Pinadillo Crianza 2007 - Imported by Luxe Vintages, this is a very dry Tempranillo, loaded with spices and big fruit flavors.

Bodegas y Vinedos Ortega Fournier, S.L.
Alpha Spiga 2004 - Distributed by Henry Wine Group, the grapes for this wine were taken from 70-year-old vines.  It has received 90+ ratings from critics.

Protos Bodega Ribera Duero de Penafiel, S.L.
Reserva 2005 - Imported by Winebow, this is a star of their lineup.  It's easy to taste why, with a candy-like nose and palate.

Vega Real
Crianza 2007 - Imported by New Age Imports, there are tons of spices in this one.

Vina Gourmaz
Tempranillo 2009 - Imported by Classical Wines from Spain, this was my favorite.  Beautiful blackberry and raspberry flavors dominate.

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