Saturday, November 2, 2019

Ribera del Duero and Rueda Regions Showcase Distinctive Flavors Of Spain

Ribera y Rueda WinesWake up to the possibilities of Spanish wine by exploring the Rueda and Ribera del Duero regions.

Reaching The High Plateau

Hear me, you wine lovers. If your knowledge of Spanish wine is limited to one very popular region, a cavalcade of sensational Spanish wine is passing you by.

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We explored Ribera del Duero and Rueda during a recent wine dinner and an online tasting hosted by Snooth and Ribera y Rueda wines. Rueda and Ribera del Duero are sister wine regions located on high plateaus along the Duero River in North-Central Spain, about two hours north of Madrid. The marketing partnership is sensible, since Ribera focuses on complex red wines while Rueda is known for its distinctive white wines.

Tempranillo is the signature grape in Ribera, where winemaking goes back more than 2,000 years. The DO (Denominaciónes de Origen) was founded in 1982 and there were just nine wineries. Today, there are more than 300. Tempranillo, known locally as Tinto Fino, is a hearty, thick-skinned version of its cousin in Rioja. The grape produces robust red wines.

In Rueda, the DO was founded in 1980 and today has about 70 wineries. Rueda is ground zero for Verdejo, Spain’s number one white grape variety. Wine production dates back to the 12th Century when King Alfonso VI offered lands to monasteries. Wine produced here must contain a minimum of 50% Verdejo. The gravel soils are rich in limestone and iron and yield complex, aromatic fruit.

Spanish-Themed Meal Is A Knock-Out

Our culinary team went into overdrive to pair just the right dishes with our four wines. As part of the online tasting, half the participants were sent wine from Ribera del Duero and the other half received wines from Rueda. We were part of “Team Ribera” but to make sure our dinner guests had a well rounded lineup, I purchased a bottle of Verdejo from Rueda.

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Here’s a glimpse of our menu and wine pairings

Ribera y Rueda menu for SM

Our friend Susan prepared a shrimp dish for openers. As time was approaching for the dinner, I didn’t have the exact name of her dish for the menu card, so it became Camarones de Susana (Susan’s Shrimp in Spanish). The tasty dish was crab stuffed shrimp and was a spot-on appetizer with the Bodegas Garclarevalo 2018 Casamaro Verdejo from Rueda.

Rueda Verdejo and crab-stuffed shrimpThe sandy soils were naturally protected from the phylloxera pest that spread across the region about 100 years ago. The original vines, now 100 to 145-years-old continue to grow and were used in the Verdejo, along with free run juice from younger vines. The wine is 85% Verdejo and 15% Viura.

This is a bright wine, but the acidity is in the background. A lush mouthfeel pairs with refreshing flavors of citrus and peach. Our gang could have easily turned this into a Verdejo party!

More seafood was on deck as we moved into a tasting menu portion of our dinner. We had three small dishes: Pan Roasted Salmon with Tomato Caper Vinaigrette, Salad with Baked Herb Goat Cheese and Pan de Tomate Catalan. This last dish is toasted bread rubbed with garlic and smashed tomatoes. For our pairing we opted for the Bodegas Cepa 21 Hito 2017 Rosado from Ribera del Duero.

Rosé in Spain is called rosado and usually has a bit more body than a typical rosé from France’s Provence region. The Hito is made with Tempranillo and is a pale pink. Red fruit and citrus highlight this wine which has a medium body and was a wonderful accompaniment to the salmon.

Ribera del Duero Rosado and roasted salmon

The Rise Of Ribera Reds

When I visited Spain a few years ago, perhaps the biggest surprise was the brash and bold red wines from Ribera del Duero. Why didn’t I know about them? They were sensational. So I looked forward to our entree which was paired with two very different Ribera reds.

The Green Dragon (my wife and our main chef) really shone with the Braised Short Ribs with Manchego Polenta. She was ably assisted by cousin Betsy, who was in town after attending a conference. The meat fell effortlessly from the bone as the wine reduction sauce melded with the creamy polenta. Wow – and that was before I even tried the wines.

Ribera y Rueda DinnerThe first red was the Valdehermoso 2016 Joven from Bodegas Valderiz. Joven is the Spanish classification for unaged wine designed to be consumed young. This is a biodynamic wine and it is fermented in stainless barrels. This wine has scant tannins to detract from gushers of beautiful red fruit with fresh cherry flavors. Tasty indeed, but our hearty short ribs dish was more ideally matched to our next wine.

The Finca Torremilanos 2016 Los Cantos is 95% Tempranillo and 5% Merlot from biodynamically farmed vineyards. The vineyards are distinguished by the presence of round river stones, or “cantos.”

I was uncertain what to expect since the bottle isn’t listed as a Crianza or Reserva, which indicates minimum barrel aging. I was to learn the wine is aged 16 months in French oak barrels and it brings a true beauty to the wine. One sip revealed a complex wine with beautiful tannins and golden oak notes.  Black cherry and spice round out this perfect pairing for our braised meat dish.

For our finish we had a sweet surprise from our guests Arthur and Mary Branham. Arthur is a winemaker with a sweet tooth. He poured his Barham 2015 Chocolate Raspberry Port to go with our Chocolate Raspberry torte. Bullseye! It hit the mark just right.

Whether you are aiming for a splash of a refreshing white or a deep dive into complex reds, Ribera y Rueda have you covered. The value is outstanding too. Each wine reviewed is $18 or less. Expand your Spanish horizons by sipping wines from these unique regions.

Full disclosure: Some of these wines were received as marketing samples.

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