With summer in the air, all I can think about is where I am going to travel to next. There are so many places to visit worldwide, but I can’t help but reminisce about that summer I visited Spain. From the sights and sounds to the food and wine, I was enamored by la patria—España.
While I only scratched the surface during that visit, I longed to learn more about each region, especially the ones with wine. That’s when I stumbled upon Ribera del Duero and Rueda. The Ribera del Duero and Rueda regions are located in Castilla y León, which has a deep and rich history, reflected in its eight World Heritage sites.
I had to dive in deeper, so I stopped by my local wine shop, Sunset Corners, for a tasting and a crash course in Ribera del Duero and Rueda. Sunset Corners is the oldest wine shop in Miami and has a great selection of Ribera del Duero and Rueda wines, that go beyond the usual suspects.
Ribera del Duero
One of Spain’s top red wine-producing regions, Ribera del Duero runs from the east of Aranda del Duero westward to Valladolid. Its name translates as riverbanks of the Duero. In fact, the region’s vineyards border the Duero River to the north and south, stretching up to the limestone cliffs where the valley intersects with the Meseta Central, a plateau that rises between 700 and 1,000 meters above sea level and varies in width and depth throughout the valley. There are 22,000 hectares of vines planted in Ribera del Duero, making it the second in total Denominación de Origen (D.O.) wine production in Spain.
The terroir is pretty extreme, with harsh winters and intense, dry summers that stress hard-working vines to produce grapes with balanced ripeness and intensity. Luckily, these indigenous grapes are used to this sort of thing and can grow to reach their full potential. The soil is made up of three elements: chalk, stony soil, and clay.
Winemaking here goes back 2,600 years, as evidenced by the unearthing of an ancient mosaic of Bacchus. In fact, one of the region’s most significant producers, Bodegas Vega Sicilia, has been turning out its renowned red wines since the mid-19th century (a loooonnggg time ago). In 1982, when the D.O. was founded, there were only nine wineries. Today, there are more than 300.
To be recognized as D.O., red wines must contain a minimum of 75% Tempranillo, though most are made with 100%. Blends may contain up to 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Malbec. No more than 5% Garnacha or Albillo, altogether, may be added. Rosado wines must be made with a minimum of 50% of the region’s authorized red varieties.
I, luckily, was able to better grasp the region through my glass. I tried a 2013 Reserva (which is aged a minimum of three years, with at least one year in barrel) with 100% Tempranillo and a 2015 Cosecha (Tinto Joven, a young wine with no aging requirements. They often undergo various degrees of aging, sometimes in oak.) with 90% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines shined in their own ways, displaying the characteristic notes of ripe fruit, spice, and vanilla, with a nice complexity and finish. ¡Delicioso!
Rueda is Spain’s most famous white wine region. The Duero River runs along the northern part of the Rueda region, flowing westward from the east toward the Atlantic Ocean. Most of Rueda’s vineyards are located south of the river, extending all the way to the province of Segovia.
The area’s dry climate, dramatic diurnal shift, and rocky soils create ideal conditions for Rueda’s prized grape—Verdejo. This native variety has been cultivated in Rueda since the 11th century.
In the 1970s, attention shifted to quality over quantity, and Verdejo began to thrive once again as the region’s star grape. This included the rescue of 100+ year old Verdejo vineyards. Rueda was the first D.O. approved in Castilla y León in 1980, and is currently home to approximately 70 wineries.
Verdejo is the star grape of the region, as it is indigenous to Rueda. It buds early, ripens early, and is drought resistant. Though the vast majority of wines made in the region are Verdejo, some other grapes are allowed in the D.O. are such as Viura and Sauvignon Blanc. Verdejo wine styles vary from those made in stainless steel (crisp and refreshing with generous acidity and fruit) to those made in oak or from older vineyards (more complex, full-bodied, richer).
I, of course, needed to taste a piece of this region too. I tried two 100% Verdejos (it’s gotta be their prized grapes for a reason), one from 2017 and the other from 2013. You could note the difference in age, but they both were overall fruit-forward, citrusy, with a crisp acidity to them. ¡Perfecto!