The Wines & Gastronomy of Spain – Ribera del Duero

Considered one of the most legendary winemaking regions in Spain, the Ribera del Duero, a short drive northwest of Madrid on Spain’s northern plateau, is home to some of the most elegant red wines in the world.  The appellation, or DO, straddles four provinces in Castilla y León: Valladolid, Burgos, Soria and Segovia.  The fabled “Milla de Oro,” the Golden Mile, lies along both sides of the Duero River in Valladolid province and is often referred to as the heart of the region.  Here you’ll find the renowned vineyards of Vega Sicilia, Dominio de Pingus, Hacienda Monasterio, Aalto, Arzuaga Navarro, Abadía Retuerta and Mauro (the latter two sit just west of the appellation’s official limits).  And as fabled as these wineries are, the region is filled with outstanding boutique wineries, including López Cristóbal in Roa, Hermanos Pérez Pascuas in Pedrosa, Ismael Arroyo-Valsotillo in Still de La Ribera, Bodegas Comenge in Curiel de Duero, Vina Sastre in and the quite small, but award-winning wineries of Bodegas Veganzones and Bodegas Briego in Fompedraza.

The ancient cellar of Ismael Arroyo-Valsotillo

Ribera’s earliest underground cellars, with their distinctive stone chimneys, called “zarceras,” were built in the 13th-century in towns across the region and still serve to protect the wines from the extreme climate changes.  The limestone caves, dug by hand, provide the perfect conditions for aging these fine ones.  One of the best examples of these cellars is the 400-meter long wine storage cellar of Bodegas Ismael Arroyo-Valsotillo in Still de La Ribera.  The extremes of weather, from scorchingly home summers with moderate to low rainfall and harsh, cold winters, combined with the unique soil conditions and higher elevation, create the ideal growing conditions for the Tempranillo (early ripening) grape, known locally as Tinto Fino, or Tinta de País, but it is the great passion for producing great wines that make the Ribera del Duero so notable.  The maximum yields are limited to 7,000 kilos per hectare by the DO, but the average yields for the past 25 years have rarely exceeded 3,600 Kilos per hectare, as the wineries have reduced the quantity in pursuit of quality.

The castle of Peñafiel overlooks the Plaza de Coso, which also serves as the bullring during the Festival of San Roque

Although the Denominación de Origen of Ribera del Duero has only been in existence since July 1982, starting with only 9 wineries, winemaking in the region dates back more than 2000 years, to the time of the Romans who had a settlement (Clunia) at what is now the small village of Baños de Valdearados in the Burgos province.  The Ribera del Duero now counts 270 commercial wineries with 35,000 hectares in production, about a third of the area of their rival to the north, scattered along its 115 km length, with major winemaking centered in and around the towns of Peñafiel (Valladolid), Roa and Aranda de Duero (Burgos) and San Esteban de Gormaz (Soria), all of which sit along the banks of the Duero River.  The “Golden Mile” lies just west of Peñafiel.  Here, most of the vineyards are located at lower elevations and wineries employ special towers t move he heavier, colder air the settles in over the river valley in order to protect the grapes from the dangers of an early fall frost, common to the area.

Looking north across the vineyards of Abadía Retuerta to the luxury 5-star Le Domaine

The most typical dish in the area is the famous Siempre Lechazo, milk-fed baby lamb, some of the best in the country, but you also have several gourmet restaurants that have opened, including the Michelin-star Taller Arzuaga, Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro, in Quintanilla de Onésimo (Valladolid).

A typical serving of Siempre Lechazo

The Gran Fiesta de la Vendimia Ribera del Duero, the wine harvest festival, takes place in Aranda de Duero in late September, but has been canceled for 2020 due to the pandemic.

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