Castille & Ribera del Duero
Old Castille is the heartland of Spain, from where unification first began. Romantic and austere castles dot the landscape and dominate many of the towns, a living reminder that this was the final border between the Christians and the Moors. Both Valladolid and Burgos had been capitals of Spain, before the capital was moved to Madrid in 1561. During the 11th to 16th centuries this region flourished. There was a famous University at Salamanca, the Royal Courts and churches and abbeys – all of which encouraged commerce and along with it a demand for fine wines to please the professors, Dukes and Abbots! Castille’s main wine regions are Ribera del Duero, Rueda and Toro and there are new plantations around Salamanca.
Lying between Madrid and Santander is Spain’s most fashionable region – Ribera del Duero. Relatively unknown outside of Spain until the last decade, apart from its most famous bodega, Vega Sicilia. Vines have been grown here since time immemorial, in tiny plots alongside other crops such as corn. These were not bottled but drunk locally or sent to Rioja for inclusion in blends. Phylloxera struck here later than in Rioja, but with the same effect. With replanting came the small cooperatives that increased the quality of the wine. These co-ops drove the bulk of the region’s wines until 1982 when the DO came into operation. It heralded vast investment, with new bodegas, a large increase in plantings and the birth of a modern classic region. Only red and Rosado wines are made.
Rueda, a high, undulating plain to the southwest of Ribera del Duero, is also emerging as one of Spain’s greats, but for white wines, with no reds until very recently. Rueda was put on the map when Marques de Riscal, one of the two senior Rioja bodegas, chose Rueda as the site for their new white wine winery. Prior to this, the region was known only for sherry-like wines.
In common with many of the world’s top wine regions, Rueda has largely limestone soils, but its secret weapon is its main grape, the Verdejo. This has good aroma, and a crispness and balance that is all too often missing from Viura and thus white Rioja. Besides Verdejo, there is also some Viura, Palomino (of Sherry fame) and increasingly fine Sauvignon Blanc.
The vineyards of Toro are a little further downstream from Ribera del Duero, thus a little warmer and harvested in the heat rather than the cool. Perhaps it is from the shorter growing season but Toro wines always seem more ‘foursquare’ than Ribera and can seem brutal rather than refined and elegant. However, these are good wines and of decent value.
Typical dishes of the region include Cordero asado (milk fed baby lamb), Cabrito asado (Roast Kid), or perhaps the most famous local peasant dish (cochinillo) roast suckling pig. The River Duero is a good source for fish and being a very fertile region means vegetables flourish. Tapas will include Esparragos (white asparagus), Alubias con chorizio (white beans in a stew with cured sausage), Jamon Serrano (spanish equivalent to Parma ham), Morcilla (black pudding and sheep’s milk cheeses). The local bread is ‘hogaza’ which is a round loaf of fine white bread.
Rioja, Ribera del Duero & Navarra - Great Wines of Northern Spain
9 - 16 September 2013
Ribera del Duero, Rueda & Toro Vineyard Walk
15 - 21 April 2013, 6 - 12 October 2013