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Drink Ribera Grand Tasting

Emerging from the subway station in SoHo, pelted by rain drops and blasts of frozen air, the anticipation and excitement of today’s event kept me warm inside. The day had finally arrived. The Drink Ribera Grand Tasting event was only an hour away. Today’s events promised to impress even the most seasoned wine professional, not to mention one extremely enthusiastic Spanish wine consumer. First, a little about the Ribera del Duero region of Spain.

Ribera del Duero is located on Spain’s northern plateau approximately two hours north of Madrid. The region extends into four provinces – Castilla y León, Burgos, Segovia, and Valladolid, and practically dissected horizontally by the Duero River. Wine-making in this region dates back more than 2000 years to the Roman era and has a fascinating history. During the Middle Ages, Cistercian monks and Benedictines were the leading drivers of a revival of wine from this area. Ribera wines were also highly regarded for export at the height of the Spanish Empire during the 17th and 18th centuries, but it wasn’t until the 19th century when the region’s most famous winery, Vega Sicilia, was founded. Ribera del Duero finally became an official D.O. on July 21, 1982, priding itself on the renowned native Spanish grape, Tempranillo – also known as Tinto Fino or Tinta del Pais – which accounts for 95% of all production. Other red varietals grown in the region include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha Tinta, and Malbec. The only white varietal, Albillo, accounts for only 3% of all production.

With the help of a New York City PR company – Gregory White PR, Ribera del Duero launched the “Drink Ribera” campaign. I can honestly say that they did not disappoint! Take note of this: The region was represented by more than 120 wineries pouring more than 400 wines. In addition to this tasting was also a VIP seminar introducing the wines of Vega Sicilia (right, like they need any introduction).

The vast array of wines were tasted in this order: 2006 Alion, 2000 Alion, 2005 Valbuena, 1998 Valbuena, 2002 Unico, and 1991 Unico – all exhibiting the grandeur and finesse for which Vega Sicilia has become famous. The worst part of this particular seminar? Knowing that I still needed to attempt to tackle the more than 400 wines in four hours!

Walking through the doorway, draped with red curtains, the stage had been set. The parade of wineries from Ribera del Duero had begun. Represented by almost half of its 250+ wineries, the region made its so-called entrance into the U.S. market with a bang. The first room showcased 30 wineries who were seeking importers. I spent quite a bit of time in this room because the quality of wines that still seek to reach the American consumer are outstanding.

Moving through a dimly lit hallway where a “Drink Ribera. Drink Spain” sat prominently on a table lit with tea lights, I was about to hit the proverbial mother lode. On the bar to right sat another 30+ wines from bodegas seeking importers but were unable to send representation to the event.

Turning back to the center of the vast room that lay before me sat a virtual cornucopia of wines by wineries currently importing to the U.S. The availability of these wines vary but they’re certainly worth seeking out. Some of the more popular (and more easily available) wineries represented include: Tinto Pesquera, Condado de Haza, Bodegas Arzuaga, Emilio Moro, and Bodegas Neo. I was also impressed by some lesser known wineries: Balbas, La Cepa Alta, Pingón, Portia, and Paramo de Corcos. Passion for the wines from the region were evident at every table and made the experience all the more enjoyable.

Finally, a word on vintage. In speaking with a number of winemakers during the day, it became evident that the 2001, 2004, and 2005 vintages ranked at the top of their list for this decade. That was until 2009! Without fail, when asked about their impressions for the 2009 vintage, the universal retort was that 2009 is expected to be the best vintage in the last ten years. A press release from the Consejo Regulador of Ribera del Duero states the following: “Unlike many Spanish wine regions, in Ribera del Duero the ripening process in 2009 has been defined by cold night temperatures and warm, bright days, resulting in outstanding phenolic ripening, well-balanced acidity and great color development. Chemical analysis indicates that ripening started gradually this vintage, and then accelerated resulting in pronounced color and soft, smooth tannins. The health of the vines is close to perfect, while berry clusters are ripe and loose, an indication of an excellent season.” I will eagerly await the release of the 2009 Ribera del Duero wines in the U.S and expect that we will see a lot of 2009 Gran Reservas, but not until at least 2014. For that, I guess I will just have to wait. To learn more about Ribera del Duero visit Drink Ribera. Drink Spain.


Rick Fisher

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