Ribera del Duero perches on a plateau about 200km/125 miles north of Madrid. Wine production there is difficult and yields are small but spectacular. The land was scraped and destroyed by retreating Moors in the 15th century, leaving it almost useless for farming. (The environment is so harsh that even phylloxera has a hard time surviving.) The focus is almost exclusively on the Tempranillo grape. Legally wines in the Denominación de Origen are required to have at least 75% Tempranillo (or Tinto Fino as they call it), but most of the 280 producers do not blend.
Why stick around in such a harsh area, making wine from only one grape? This is also Basque country, where the people are tenacious and tied to their native land, language, cuisine, and wine. As our host remarked, "Before God was God and rocks were rocks, the Basque were Basque."
While we were fed exceptionally well over the entirety of the weekend, this was my favorite meal, starting off with...
ensalada de jamon con peras: baby arugula, shaved Serrano ham, d'Anjou pear, Manchego cheese, vinaigrette
A light and refreshing start to the meal, and while I would have loved a crisp Albariño, it was time to dive into the reds.
2009 Bodegas y Viñdeos Ortega Fournier Urban Ribera, $14: Dark cherry and firm tannins, touch of leather.
2011 Bodegas Félix Callejo Flores de Callejo, $20: Firm tannins with a plum character, just enough oak.
2011 Bodegas Barco de Piedra, $15: Smooth red cherry profile with mellow tannins, and a mild, melt-in-your-mouth finish. Great bargain.
2007 Bodegas y Viñdeos Montecastro, $41: Robust and bold, with a strong body and firm tannins. Earth and plum aromas once it breathes a bit.
caldo de temporada: Galician style pumpkin-chicken soup, smoked bacon, chorizo, potato, broccoli rabe
I've been craving this soup ever since I got back. Why haven't I made it yet? So simple yet so savory, and it's just the kind of thing I need to fix before it gets too warm here in Memphis.
2005 Legaris, $36: The first wine of the day with the enticing whiff of mint on top. Underneath were rich and dark aromas of plum and coffee.
2006 Bodegas Convento San Francisco, $34: One of my favorites, with lots of vegetal aromas. Bell peppers, a little brett, and earth. This wine brings the funk in the best possible way.
2009 Bodegas Cepa 21 Malabrigo, $66: Ripe red fruit, low tannins, and a bright character.
2010 Bodegas Astrales, $40: Red cherries, with firm tannins and a tart, rich finish.
costilla al vino tinto: Ribera del Duero braised short ribs, confit fingerling potatoes, crispy leeks
I found this a novel way to serve short ribs--just two ribs and sliced potatoes in a crème brûlée ramekin. You get just enough of the rich flavor without it getting too heavy. I was reminded of Thomas Keller's mantra about the palate dulling after three bites. I restrained myself and did not pick up the crockery to lick it clean.
2009 Selección de Torres Celeste, $28: Plum and spice with notes of leather. Pleasant, medium tannic finish.
2001 Explotaciones Valduero, $160: The mint came back on this wine, which also featured aromas of plum and bacon fat. A really complex, fascinating, and well-aged wine. I kept coming back to it at the end of the meal, picking out new elements and layers.
2005 Bodegas Hnos. Pérez Pascuas Viña Pedrosa, $85: This one started out closed and tight, and only after an hour did it start opening up to reveal cassis and a little cedar.
2001 Condado de Haza Alenza, $100: Another earthy one that I loved, this time with licorice and coffee on top of a solid black cherry base. Beautifully aged.
For dessert we had a lovely assortment of Spanish cheeses and quince paste, a mix that was so good with the wine that I neglected to take a picture.
Spain continues to surprise me. Just when I think I have a grasp on the country and its many wine regions, I get an opportunity to delve deep into one that is new to me, but has been producing wine for thousands of years. As part of my fascination with Mediterranean wines, I hope to try some bottles from the Balearic Islands in the future. Hopefully as part of a year long trip, sailing around the sea in a small boat and docking every few days to try the local bottles and dishes, maybe take in a little fishing as well. One of these days I'll retrace the old Phoenician wine routes...
Check out these other great reviews of the same tasting! Brunello Bob "Ribera del Duero Lunch - Salinas NYC", The V.I.P. Table "Ribera del Duero: Thriving through Adversity", Wine Julia "#SnoothPVA: Experiencing Spain in New York City with Ribera del Duero Wines at Salinas", Reverse Wine Snob "Reveling in the Wine of Ribera del Duero Plus 3 Top Value Picks from this Region", Vindulge "Wine and food are a great match for Ribera del Duero", My Vine Spot "#SnoothPVA: Ribera del Duero Lunch at Salinas", Avvinare "Ribera Del Duero Tasting During SnoothPVA at Salinas"
I don't post a lot of photos of myself on this site, but my buddy Dezel snapped a shot of me hard at work tasting the delicious wines of the Ribera del Duero. I'm hoping he can make an excuse to come to Memphis to enjoy some wine with proper barbecue.
Note: This trip was provided by Snooth.