Following a pretty nice Brazilian “liquid” breakfast, we packed our belongings and walked several blocks to Salinas restaurant for a Ribera del Duero luncheon. Salinas is located in the heart of Chelsea (Manhattan) and specializes in Spanish cuisine and tapas. Leading us through this tasting and luncheon were top sommelier and representative for Ribera del Duero, Roger Kugler, and Snooth's editor-in-chief, Gregory Dal Piaz.
Ribera del Duero is located in northern Spain and is divided by the Duero River; for which it is named. This is the same river that becomes the Douro River in Portugal and reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Ribera del Duero has a long winemaking tradition dating back to the Roman period. In 1982, the region achieved DO (Denominación de Origen) status, a regulatory [quality-control] classification system, and specializes almost exclusively in red wine produced from Tinto Fino/Tinta del País -- known to most of us as Tempranillo. As it relates to viticulture, Ribera del Duero is often called a land of extremes. Much of the region’s vine plantings are situated at fairly high altitudes and winters can be very severe while summers can be brutally hot with daily temperatures exceeding 100°. Over time, Tempranillo, a dark, thick-skinned grape variety, has proven that it can handle the intense heat and abundant sunshine and still mature properly and produce high-quality wines. For this reason, Tempranillo accounts for 80% -- if not more -- of all plantings in the area.
Fortunately, for the wine grapes and the overall quality of the region’s prized Tempranillo-based red wines, diurnal summertime temperature swings (i.e., warm days/cool evenings) can be pretty significant. This climatic effect preserves the grape’s natural acidity which is needed to match the ripeness levels berries can achieve in such warm-to-hot conditions. The weather extremities in the region likely influence the lack of white wines. Though, there are plantings of a white grape variety called Albillo, that is mainly grown for local consumption. Other red grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec are also grown in the area and are generally used for blending. It’s important to note that a DO-recognized wine must have a minimum of 75% Tempranillo.
Snooth describes Ribera del Duero’s Tempranillo-based wines as “rich and powerful”-- adding -- “they are produced in a broad and appealing range of styles.” That’s true from my perspective too. My overall experience with Ribera del Duero has been along the lines of full-bodied, velvety-textured, robust red wines with (fairly) ripe fruit flavors, good supporting acidity, supple tannins and well-integrated (mainly American) oak.
When I have Ribera del Duero in my glass, I’m generally thinking about grilled fare (or something similar). The good people at Salinas, who get high marks for both service and quality, put together a nice pairing menu for us that didn’t involve anything from the grill. Some of the pairings, which I probably would have not thought of (like the soup), were big hits among the group. Both the Caldo De Temporada (Galician style pumpkin-chicken soup with smoked bacon, chorizo, potato and broccoli) as well as the Costilla Al Vino Tinto (braised short ribs, confit potatoes and crispy leeks) paired nicely with many of the wines we had an opportunity to taste. The Ensalada De Jamon Con Peras (baby arugula, shaved Serrano ham, pear, manchego cheese, and vinaigrette), however, while delicious on its own, was overwhelmed by the wines – even the lightest of them all. Staying within Spain, my ideal pairing would have come from further west where a refreshing splash of Albariño from Riax Bias would have likely proven a nice match.
Over the course of the luncheon, we tasted everything from affordable and pleasurable everyday sippers to more concentrated and full-bodied wines that offered excellent length and depth with good complexity. Some of these, such as the 2001 Explotaciones Valduero (SRP $160) and 2001 Condado de Haza Alenza (SRP $100), really speak to the longevity of well-made Ribera del Duero wines and their ability to potentially improve over time. These two wines showed considerable layers of complexities and nuance with wonderful aromatics. At the under $20 “sweet spot,” selections like the 2011 Bodegas Barco de Piedra (SRP $15) and 2011 Bodegas Felix Callejo 'Flores de Callejo' (SRP $20), were ripe and fresh with good structure and offer satisfying midweek options for the dinner table that won’t break the piggy bank. For $40, the 2010 Bodegas Astrales showed power and charm with inviting black and purple stone fruit aromas/flavors with subtle red tones and pleasant, well-integrated barrel accents over a nice backbone of acidity and tannin.
In closing, I highly recommend following @DrinkRibera and getting to know this region and their wines. And don’t let some of the high price tags I cited above fool you. Ribera del Duero offers very good values in red wines with many nice selections priced between $15 and $30. I recommend having a bottle or two nearby the next time you fire up the grill. Lastly, I encourage you to read the blogs of my #snoothpva friends below who also attended this lunch and wrote about their experience on their respective blogs. Many of them have reviewed all the wonderful Ribera del Duero wines we had an opportunity to taste alongside a very delicious Spanish-inspired tapas menu put together by Salinas restaurant. Cheers!
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