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Ribera del Duero: Region in Transition at Spain's Highest Level
By Michael Franz
Apr 27, 2022
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I have admired the wines of Ribera del Duero since I began studying wine in the latter half 1980s, and have witnessed their rise from virtual obscurity to a stature at which they are now arguably the best reds in Spain.  When I was starting out, it would have been virtually impossible to mount such an argument, and for good reason:  There was very little wine about which to argue, as Ribera del Duero wasn’t even a legal wine appellation until 1982, and at that time, there were only 9 wineries.  The total now exceeds 300 producers, and though the region is currently in a period of rapid stylistic change, the case for Ribera del Duero as Spain’s best red region has become very strong indeed.

Wine has been made in many parts of Spain since deep into ancient times, raising fascinating questions:  How could this remarkable area have been so inconsequential in wine commerce so recently, and how could it have roared back to such a strong position so rapidly?  I’m aware of factors that help to answer both questions, and my keen interest in historical questions tempts me to pursue them here, but I’m going to resist the temptation—at least for now.  Things are currently changing so rapidly in the area, and it is sending so many exciting wines in our direction, that the proper focus is on what you should be tasting now to stay abreast of Ribera del Duero’s remarkable rise.

I spent five days tasting intensively in the region last month, and have also cracked into quite a few bottles since returning.  The bulk of this column will be devoted to tasting notes that can direct you to some of the area’s best wines and strongest values, following a compact account of how the area is developing at this time.  Such an account is worthwhile because it is quite rare to see a region that is undergoing major changes even as it is challenging the premier growing areas in one of the world’s most important wine producing countries.

To summarize ongoing changes fairly concisely, the current trend among producers is to take advantage of the region’s climate to craft reds that combine power with purity, retaining the concentration made possible by a wealth of old vines, but dialing back oak influence to let the fruit shine in Ribera’s Tempranillo-based reds.  The traditional system of designating wines by reference to their aging regimen, as Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva, is being abandoned by more producers in each successive vintage.  Oak aging is often being abbreviated, there’s increasing use of French rather than American oak, and toasting levels are lower in the barrels being ordered from coopers.

The broadly shared objective underlying these changes is to showcase the gorgeous fruit that can be grown in the region, making oak a supporting element rather than a co-star (as is often done in Rioja) and emphasizing the freshness that Ribera can achieve more readily than the warmer region of Toro.  Ribera del Duero can conjure full ripeness from thick-skinned Tempranillo thanks to quite warm daytime temperatures in summer and intense sunlight at high elevations (with many vines planted between 2,500 and 3,000 feet above sea level).  That’s only half the story, though, as temperatures tend to fall dramatically at night—again due to elevation as well as decidedly “continental” growing conditions in the center of the Iberian Peninsula.  The growing season is quite brief in the area, with frost being a threat at both the start and the end, but it is extremely well suited to Tempranillo’s short vegetative cycle.

I should backtrack briefly to note that Tempranillo is referred to by at least six different names in different parts of Spain (and by other names in Portugal and Argentina).  In Ribera del Duero it is often called “Tinto Fino” or either Tinto (or Tinta) del País, and though the nomenclature isn’t very important in its own right, some underlying differences in plant material can be quite important.  There’s momentum in the region to emphasize use of lower-yielding strains or clones of the variety that have adapted over time to local growing conditions, as opposed to some higher-yielding clones that were developed mostly in Rioja to produce inexpensive wine in high volumes.

Tempranillo is not the only variety permitted in the region, and some producers work with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec or Garnacha for blending with Tempranillo (which must comprise a minimum of 75% for a red to be designated as Ribera del Duero).  My impression is that the only one of these varieties likely to rise in prominence is Cabernet, based on the possibility that climate change will make it easier to fully ripen the variety, which can lend power to a blend.  Interestingly, Syrah is probably a better partner for blending with Tempranillo, but the variety isn’t currently authorized—which is not to say that there aren’t some surreptitious plantings in the region.  

Two quick asides on other wine types:

The white variety Albillo is also being worked with by an increasing number of producers, including some of the top names.  I tasted some quite interesting examples, but that’s a story for another time.  It seems that Albillo doesn’t have a notably strong “varietal signature,” and consequently, one sees a lot of experimentation with use of oak (including vessels of many sizes and wood that is often new or new-ish) and yeast lees.  It remains to be seen whether Albillo becomes commercially important or whether it remains a plaything for winemakers.  My bet is on the latter possibility, but time will tell.

The other aside has to do with rosé wines or Rosado.  As recently as two generations ago, relatively dark-toned wines of this type were actually predominant over reds in the region, and many bodegas still make one, either as a nod to tradition or due to the fact that a thoroughly chilled Rosado makes very good sense on an August afternoon.  Some producers are now crafting these in lighter styles and hues in keeping with the world-wide fashion being set in Provence, and are getting serious about making these wines more prominent in their sales.  However, most of the examples I encountered were still conspicuously dark by global standards, and though this makes them less fashionable and commercially viable, they pack a lot more aroma and flavor than their counterparts from almost anywhere these days.  I can envision a time when fashions might change in favor of this Ribera style, with the world effectively saying, “I’d like some wine in my wine, please.”  But the era of “blush wines” and “white Zinfandel” is probably too recent for a red-ish rosé renaissance to happen anytime soon.

One last, important development is that many bodegas are moving toward organic or even biodynamic production methods, which is a stark change for a region that used chemical fertilizers very extensively not long ago, along with pesticides and herbicides.  Ribera del Duero was hardly alone in this, but as the area is frequently buffeted by winds, fungal disease pressure is manageable by natural means with some added human labor.  Ever more producers are moving in this direction.  Experience in other regions around the world seems to indicate that these changes can show up in one’s wine glass, though it takes some time for soils to regenerate microorganisms and for improvements to be detectable by tasters—even very experienced ones.  Be that as it may, “purity” has become a prominent watchword in Ribera del Duero, and this is a noteworthy dimension of current trends.

That’s enough background to provide context, so here come the wines.  I will list them alphabetically by reference first to the producer’s name, clustering multiple current releases together in some instances while only reviewing one wine in other cases.  This variation is explained by the different circumstances under which I tasted the wines (e.g., on site in the region, or after purchasing some bottles at retail after returning in late March, or working with press samples shipped to me from Spain).  I won’t belabor the details any further, as you’ll have no difficulty figuring out which wines I think are most worthy of your attention based on quality or value:

Abadía San Quirce, Finca Helena 2016 ($60):  This wine was sourced from a single site and announced its place in the lineup of three samples from the bodega by its ultra-expensive cork and individually numbered front label.  Made from 100% Tinta del País, it shows terrific quality in all respects from a vintage that isn’t a favorite of most winemakers in the region.  The oak is very classy in its restraint and character, lending topnotes of spices and faint toasty scents, but nothing that verges over into overt vanilla or smoke.  The fruit is thus able to show itself, and it shows excellent purity with both black and red tones.  The wine’s weight and concentration are also quite classy, with enough heft to prove satisfying while still being light enough for the wine to display freshness and be very versatile with food.  Excellent fruit, beautifully wrought…an impressive effort that doesn’t try too hard to impress.  94

Abadía San Quirce “M9” 2019 ($33):  This is a delicious wine in a contemporary style that shows relatively light oak (aged for 12 months in wood) and released young to feature the fruit—which is undeniably delicious.  The wood supports the fruit and adds complexity but doesn’t obtrude on either the aromas or flavors, and likewise doesn’t add excessive astringency from wood tannins.  In terms of texture, there’s a rounded feel on the palate, with gentle grip from tannin allowing for a surprisingly long finish for a wine that’s still so young, but also enough firmness to enable this to work with quite robust food—without requiring a lot of dietary fat to smooth it out.  I know almost nothing about this producer except for the three wines I just tasted, but all indications point to skill in both theory and practice, and the three offer significantly different styles, all very well executed.  92

Abadía San Quirce Reserva 2016 ($33):  This is meaty, oaky, unapologetically traditional Ribera del Duero made entirely from Tempranillo, and those who love wines in the style made famous in the USA by Pesquera in the late 1980s will find that same style here (arguably better executed when measured against recent releases from Pesquera).  There’s ample spice and toast in the bouquet, as in vanilla and campfire embers, but the fruit is gutsy and satisfying even from a vintage that isn’t known for that attribute.  This will definitely benefit from cellaring for a good five years, and more than that if possible, but there’s no reason you couldn’t crack in to this now with a bit of aeration and maybe some grilled lamb.  92

Arrocal “Reserva de Familia” 2018 ($85):  This medium-sized, family-owned bodega (they’ve been growers since 1850) is among the most rapidly rising in the region, and there’s no doubt that its fame will increase rapidly in the very near future.  This is a new, top wine that replaces two former high-end releases called “Ángel” and Maximo,” which were last made in 2016.  Both of those wines were terrific for multiple releases on end, which shows that things are really moving at this address under the leadership of a new generation (Rodrigo and Asier Calvo), even though the place was already obviously on the rise.  Everything is estate grown and all from within the village (Gumiel de Mercado) where the winery is located.  This is 100% Tinto Fino from 70+ year-old vines located in the single vineyard called Guardavinas, which is situated at 860 meters of elevation.  It was aged entirely in new oak (70% French and 30% American) for 24 months, and though it will become more fully integrated and complex, it is already off to a flying start, having absorbed much of its overtly new oak aromas and flavors.  That shows how formidable the core of fruit is in this wine, which recalls black cherries above all, with accents of baking spices and a whiff of woodsmoke, plus multiple other subtle nuances.  This is already wonderful, and will only get better steadily over the decade ahead, by which time my score may well look low in retrospect.  94

Arrocal “Selección” 2018 ($42, imported by Grapes of Spain / Aurelio Cabestrero):  I’ve never tasted a vintage of this wine that wasn’t excellent regardless of whether price was taken into consideration.  When one does consider cost, it then emerges as one of the best values of any wine from Ribera del Duero, always challenging the top wines—but often at only about half their prices.  In 2018, it shows excellent concentration and depth of flavor, and yet these virtues weren’t gained by over-ripening or over-extracting the fruit, or by juking the wine up with excessive oak toast.  It manages to show very fine purity and poise even on a large frame, with very well-tuned balance between fruit, tannin, acidity and wood.  It is already very enjoyable thanks to its exemplary proportionality, but will clearly develop in a positive direction for at least 5-7 years, and perhaps notably longer.  When time in bottle has lent tertiary savory notes, this will certainly improve for a minimum of five years, and will surely hold at that level for another five, making this a very formidable performer for a wine priced at $42.  93

Arrocal Tinto Fino Crianza 2019 ($32, Grapes of Spain / Aurelio Cabestrero):  I tasted this vintage of this wine both at the bodega in Spain and also in my home in late April, 2022, and was highly impressed on both occasions.  I must confess that I’ve probably become somewhat predisposed against bottles labeled as “Crianza” – even though it is my job never to be predisposed — simply because of the sheer number of examples from Spain that were lacking in fruit energy, virtually dripping with overtones of vanilla, and largely bereft of length in the finish and depth of fruit in the midpalate.  (Rioja is largely the regional culprit behind this, but it is not alone.)  Well, this is THE bottle to cure you if you also suffer from the same syndrome of, “do I really need to deal with another Crianza?”  The wine is packed with rich, pure, deeply flavorful fruit that wears whatever oak it picked up over 12 months in barrel very lightly and as a flourish rather than as a principal component, rather like a scarf flapping in the wind behind a motorcyclist.  Sourced from vines averaging 30 years of age and aged entirely in French oak, this is packed with delicious fruit flavors (mostly black-toned) with lovely, lively spice and toast accents.  Already utterly convincing and complete, this will easily improve for another five years.  Yes, $32 is a fairly high price for anything that reads “Crianza” on the label, but the wine is worth more than that, and the word should simply be ignored in this case, as this is a unicorn among goats.  93

Bodegas Arroyo “Vendimia Seleccionada” 2014 ($25):  This large but modest appearing winery was initially a co-op, and is variously referred to as “S. Arroyo” or “Arroyo Tinto.”  The wines are not widely distributed and are rather traditional in style, with a dark Rosado, a Roble, and then the usual run of Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.  All are tasty and well made, if not really remarkable.  However, this “Vendimia Seleccionada” from the fine 2014 was utterly delicious, and it is an excellent value also, so grab it if you can find it.  Malolactic fermentation is conducted in barrel, which is in indication of special effort, and special results resulted.  The wine shows some interesting accents of cocoa and freshly roasted coffee, but it is most deeply marked by pure, delicious dark berry fruit that provides a lovely impression of ripe sweetness, enveloping the tannins and wood and making for a lingering, soft finish.  If my score is off, I missed on the low side.  92

Bodegas Finca la Capilla “Vendimia Seleccionada” 2018 ($42):  I’ve not been able to visit this bodega, so I can only render my impressions based on tasting two wines from 2018:  A gutsy but rather coarse Crianza, and this gloriously silky, refined, higher-end bottling at the opposite end of the stylistic spectrum.  There are good reasons for making both styles of wines from this region (as it does both very well), but it is frankly a bit jarring to shift from one to the other.  The Crianza is nicely designed and bottled in an imposingly heavy vessel, whereas this is even more elegantly designed, but then sold in a bottle that you could safely drop from outer space with no risk of damage on re-entry.  However, I think everyone can arrive at their own conclusions about the aesthetics and sustainability of big bottles, so I’ll stick to my core task and note that:  This is fantastic juice.  The classy oak and ripe fruit are already singing in harmony, with fresh acidity lending lift, and extremely well-managed tannins offering a needed counterpoint to the soft, very ripe (but not over-ripe) fruit.  Blackberry and black cherry are the lead notes, with a kiss of vanilla and some nice, spicy topnotes.  I could understand how some might object to the bottle, but anybody who objects to its contents is being an ideologue rather than a fair taster.  Bloody delicious wine, ready to rip, and perfect for higher-end restaurants.  If my score is off, it is a point too low for those looking for immediate enjoyment, in which application this shines, indisputably.  93

Bodegas Finca la Capilla Crianza 2018 ($32):  This is a Crianza that displays its oak quite prominently, and it comes across in a rather coarse way.  That is not a problem for all applications, as this will smooth out nicely if you give it at least two more years of bottle age, or if you enjoy it now with something quite robust, like grilled beef.  However, if you rely on the Crianza aging regimen to provide you with a ready-to-drink wine, you aren’t likely to be happy unless you pair this with grilled meat, though you will understand why every more producers in Ribera del Duero (and elsewhere in Spain) have dispensed with the Crianza – Reserva – Gran Reserva designation system, which misleads consumers more often than it informs them accurately.  With that noted, this still delivers a satisfying one-two punch of fruit and wood if that’s what you are seeking.  89

Bodegas Comenge “Don Miguel Comenge” 2017 ($60):  This bodega is doing very interesting work with yeast strains, isolating the best ones from their vineyard sites and then propagating them and inoculating fermentation vessels to enable the best yeasts to “outrun” the less desirable ones blowing around at random in the region.  The wines are quite good, and though I can’t precisely attribute a measure of quality to this yeast program, it is undoubtedly impressive that such efforts are underway at Comenge.  This wine includes 10% Cabernet and was inaugurated in 2004, a year when particularly good Cab was harvested.  It undergoes 18 to 24 months of aging in all new French oak, and though the wood influence definitely shows, the spice and vanilla notes are nicely supported by rich fruit.  This is too “international” in style to serve as a good introduction to Ribera del Duero, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it is a very good wine.  Beware, though, that this is still very firm and has lots of wood tannin, so don’t crack into this for another five years.  93

Bodegas Comenge “Familia Comenge” Reserva 2018 ($35):  Although this wine can’t quite match the 2017 “Don Miguel Comenge” for sheer power, it is superior in both purity and regional typicity and easier to enjoy in the near term, even though it is a year younger.  Some cocoa and spice notes result from 24 months of oak aging, but the dark berry fruit outruns these in the finish, leaving a nicely balanced impression.  This will get notably more complex with time in bottle, but doesn’t really require cellaring.  Side note:  This bodega makes an astonishing wine called “Jacobus” that undergoes extraordinarily long wood aging and a unique lees regimen, and I’d review it except that I could only find three retailers selling it anywhere in the world.  The 2014 vintage ($150) that I tasted was amazingly multi-dimensional and harmonious, with phenomenal breadth and depth of flavor and remarkably soft texture for a wine of very impressive concentration.  I scored it at 96, and if I hadn’t been out in the middle of nowhere with a press trip bus as my only means of escape, I’d have taken the bottle and run away at top speed.  For the “Familia Comenge” Reserva:  92

Isaac Fernández Reserva 2014 ($60, Grapes of Spain / Aurelio Cabestrero):  I’ve already reviewed this wine, but here’s another take on it—just after tasting it again while showing it to 60+ tasters working “blind” in a Zoom-based class on Ribera del Duero.  Although there’s never unanimity in that sort of setting, this was the top scoring wine of the night based on precise score-keeping by means of Zoom’s “poll” function.  That’s very impressive in view of the fact that two of the wines carried price tags of $85, but even more impressive in light of the fact that this 2014 vintage is the first-ever release of this wine.  In fairness, it benefitted from 4 years of additional bottle age by comparison to those two $85 wines from 2018, but bottle age doesn’t help every wine equally, so don’t make too much of that.  My clear impression from both of my encounters with this wine is that is exemplary in its intricacy, with many interesting details in the different tones displayed by its fruit as well as its wood influence and its bottle bouquet.  And yet, that’s not its most impressive attribute, which is the remarkable proportionality of all these sensory signals, which present themselves in near-perfect symmetry and in such a harmonious-seeming sequence that all the aroma, flavor, and finish impressions flow naturally and beautifully from one another.  As an aside, I thought even more highly of the 2015 vintage when first tasting the two side-by-side, so this is undoubtedly a new star in the Spanish firmament.  96

Isaac Fernández Selección “Finca la Mata” 2020 ($23):  I know this wine from all recent vintage releases, and it always seriously over-performs in complexity and seriousness in relation to its selling price.  The 2020 release is on track to keep the winning streak going, though it is presently in a somewhat inexpressive (not “closed”) condition, probably due to a combination of its sheer youthfulness and jostling from trans-Atlantic shipping.  Even accounting for that, it nevertheless shows good concentration from old-vine sourcing (60-85-year-old vines) and aging for 10 months in a combination of 90% French and 10% American oak.  This isn’t yet as open and showy as the 2019 was at an even earlier stage, but the track record of this wine—and winemaker—are so strong that this is a good buy already and a good bet to improve.  90

Ferratus “Sensaciones” 2014 ($36):  Ferratus (or, more fully, Bodegas Cuevas Jimenez Ferratus) is a medium-sized producer of about 10,000 cases per year, well equipped and energetically run, with very good cellar management and a skillful, French-born winemaker.  All of the wines are very solid, and the “Origen” and “Fusión” bottlings are to be sought out (91 points for the former from 2017 for about $22; 93 for the latter from the same vintage for about $50—these are excellent scores from a hot, dry year that posed challenges).  However, my favorite here by a wide margin regardless of price was this 2014 “Sensaciones,” made from 55 year-old bush vines planted at very high elevation.  The wine is aged for 17 months in tight-grained new French oak barrels, and then provided with a full four years to integrate and soften before being released into the market.  Rich and deeply flavored but soft and inviting, this is a wine that proves immediately convincing; it impresses effortlessly, in the manner of a gifted athlete.  Clearly made from exceptional fruit that was beautifully rendered, this is styled for success in the US market, and hopefully we’ll see more of this on our side of the Atlantic sometime soon.  95

Fuentespina “Avelino Vegas ‘Áureo’” 2016 ($30):  This is a very interesting producer that turns out a multiplicity of innovative, cleverly designed wines that are sold at fair prices and offer a wide range of styles and flavors.  This was my favorite of all, even though there’s a higher-end wine (“100 Anniversario” 2016) that is undeniably impressive.  This gets started with fermentation in concrete eggs before transfer to French oak barrels for 14 months.  There’s plenty of oak in the finished product, but the fruit wins out in the end, even though 2016s can be a bit light from this region.  This is quite stylish, and this is a winery that turns out multiple releases that could be very appealing to younger consumers in the USA, so importers…take note.  92

Bodegas Mauro 2019 (Finca de la Tierra de Castilla y León, $54):  This wine is to be considered in the context of Ribera del Duero even if it doesn’t bear that appellation (due a long running dispute over how the appellation boundaries were drawn), and indeed it was among the stars of the region from its first appearance.  Clearly excellent in all respects, even at this young age and right from when the cork is first pulled, this will nevertheless improve for years to come.  Concentrated pigments offer a visual indication of what is to come, and the bouquet follows right in line, offering notes of ripe fruit that are very nicely balanced against spicy wood aromas.  Impressively concentrated and deeply flavored, this presents itself authoritatively on the palate, and yet is not overbearing in any respect.  Not too ripe, or extracted, or oaky, it wears its power and intensity very gracefully.  Although time in bottle will permit even more seamless integration of fruit and wood while also bringing up additional savory notes, this is an exemplary wine that demonstrates Ribera del Duero’s remarkable ability to conjure up wines that are delicious upon release or in mid-life, but that can also become something quite different and wonderful if held for a decade after the vintage.  94

Hacienda Monasterio 2018 ($45):  I’ve tasted some stunningly good vintages of this wine from one of Ribera del Duero’s most admirable producers, yet I didn’t find the 2018 rendition to be all that admirable.  The fruit seems clearly marred by some over-ripeness that manifests itself in some stewed notes, and though all that ripeness provides it with very smooth texture, it seems overly soft and even a bit formless for such a young wine.  This bottling used to be designated as a Crianza, and though I am generally quite approving of the overall movement in Ribera del Duero toward de-emphasizing wood in favor of purity of fruit, this is a wine that would have benefited from additional “framing.”  I’m not a fan of wood tannins (by comparison to grape tannins or even stem tannins from whole cluster fermentations), but this wine needed more tannin from whatever source.  These are appropriate criticisms for a wine that rings up at $45, but don’t get me wrong:  It is delicious for now, but just comes up short of what it usually is, and should be at this price level.  91

Monteabellón, Finca la Blanquera 2016 ($55):  Made by wizard winemaker Isaac Fernández from a remarkable estate located at the southern extreme of the Ribera del Duero D.O., this won't be easy to find, but is well worth a search.  That search will require a trip to Europe, and even then its availability is very spotty--but wow, what an alluring wine.  The bouquet is very expressive, with savory accents interlaced with gorgeous fruit that is strikingly soft in texture.  No more dense than a large-framed Pinot Noir from California, this wine in this vintage is not about power but, rather, stakes its claim to excellence on its sheer succulence and generosity.  I don't have enough experience with this wine to know how it will age, and when tasting it, asked myself: Is there enough structure from tannin and oak to frame this gorgeous fruit?  Then I tried it with a bite of Ribera del Duero's roast baby lamb (the world's best, period), and concluded that yes, this is sufficiently structured and beautifully balanced--and I'll take it just as it is, thank you.  93

Montebaco “Selección Especial” 2016 ($30):  This designation—along with “Vendimia Especial” – is starting to seem like the sweet spot in ever more bodegas that are moving away from labeling their wines as Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva by reference to barrel aging regimen.  It is the most meaty and formidable of the four, even though it is the oldest, and is from the “smallest” vintage, namely, 2016.  Despite being made from a small-ish year, the concentration is quite good, and this shows potential for improving with age.  I look forward to learning more about this producer, but admire what I’ve tasted already.  92

Pago de Carraovejas 2019 ($55):  This is entitled to designation as a Crianza but isn’t labeled as such, nor was the 2018, and that’s a good thing in my view, as both vintages are higher in quality than the impression lent by that designation, and lower in degree of oak-obviousness.  Now a very sizeable bodega, whereas it looked more like a big shed when I first visited here a couple of decades ago, it is also very finely equipped and appointed, indicating both commercial success and a lot of re-investment.  (As an aside, this producer is making some superb white wines that I’ll need to address at another time, as this is already a giant column, but stay tuned:  My sense is that the very talented head winemaker at this address is even more skilled with whites than reds.)  The 2019 shows deep color and flawless aromatic and flavor balance of fruit to oak—with lots of both.  That is not intended as a back-handed compliment, as the fruit is energetic but not at all obvious, and the oak is plentiful, but reserved in toast impact and quite classy.  The 2018 – tasted in late April in the USA – is alluringly mineral and is developing beautifully (93 points), and though the 2019 is now tighter and more in need of aging, it is on track to be just as good with more time.  92

Bodegas Penalba Herraiz Crianza “Carravid” 2015 ($30, Grapes of Spain / Aurelio Cabestrero):  Unusual in several respects, this is produced by biodynamic methods and also incorporates 15% Garnacha.  The wine shows excellent pigment stability at this stage in its development, and is very open and generous in both aroma and flavor, leaning more toward the red fruit side of the spectrum.  Oak and tannin are very well integrated, and the warmth of the year contributes to the aforementioned generosity, but without imposing any sense of over-ripeness.  Although this doesn’t show the slightest sign of heading over the hill, it is so delicious now that current consumption seems advisable.  92

Protos “’27” 2019 ($33):  This is a very big producer with a facility to match, with a long history and some delicious, contemporary wines like this one—as well as ones that are less surprising.  The Crianza (2017) and Reserva (2015) are both quite good, and the Gran Reserva (2014) is excellent, but all of them are selling at higher prices in the USA than they should be, to be truly competitive against comparable wines from the region.  By comparison, this “27” release from 2019 is a deal, and a delicious one too, so this is the wine to seek out.  Aged for 16 months in 100% French oak, it is nevertheless the least oaky of the four wines referenced here, with beautiful fruit that shows what Ribera del Duero can do best.  The color is very deep, and is pigmented right to the edge of a tipped glass, and the aroma, flavor and finish live up to the wine’s lovely appearance.  Speaking of appearances, I can’t quite understand why Protos would bottle a more modern wine under a much less modern label than the other releases.  But then, I’m a wine reviewer—not a design critic.  Delicious and highly recommended.  92

Señorio de Bocos Reserva 2015 ($20):  This producer is rather conspicuous in terms of how little of its wine seems to be available for sale around the world, but the best wines are quite good, and the prices seem more than fair.  Perhaps they are selling a lot of bottles directly from the winery, or as custom labels for restaurants or other sellers—your guess is as good as mine.  In any case, this is a very good Reserva from an excellent vintage, one that shows lots of rich, ripe fruit that is beautifully balanced against the wood component and the tannins, which are very nicely wrought.  I’d buy this in a heartbeat for $20, just as I’d buy the “Autor de Bocos” bottling from 2019 for $30.  All factors considered, however, my heart beats faster for the Reserva.  91

Severino Sanz Crianza “Murón” 2018 ($18):  Even having visited this producer, I’m still rather unclear on some of the details regarding the various releases, and the winery’s website shows no red wines available for sale at all.  What I can say for sure was that it was delightfully open and delicious, with nicely ripened fruit that was very expressive on both nose and palate, and thankfully free of the typical foreclosure of the finish that mars so many Crianza and Reserva bottlings.  I don’t see it on offer anywhere in the USA, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t flying under the radar or that an importer won’t start bringing it in.  If you see it, snap it up, as this is an extremely successful specimen of the breed—juicy, delightfully pure Tempranillo at a great price.  This was better than the 2016 Crianza, which was fine…but take the 2018 if you have a choice.  91

Severino Sanz “Murón Edición Limitada” 2015 ($30):  This wine will likely prove difficult to find, as I could only find one entry for it on the “Pro” version of winesearcher.com, and that was from the winery, but no vintage was indicated, and the winery itself doesn’t seem to be offering it from their website.  However, none of that diminishes how worthy this is of an effort to locate, as it is wonderfully rich without being over-ripe or over extracted, and has already absorbed the oak in which it was matured.  An excellent example of what the warm 2015 vintage could produce for a skilled production team, this is juicy and sexy and delicious, yet not lacking for structure or aging potential.  92

Bodegas Valderiz “Valderiz” 2018 ($31):  As the name would suggest, this bottling is the cornerstone of this bodega’s production, and it proves very consistently strong across vintages, no doubt in part because it is sourced from a single, old-vine plot.  This current release upholds a long string of successes regardless of whether the wine is judged on quality or value.  It is concentrated and flavorful but without any heaviness, and is marked by a beam of pure dark cherry fruit that rides right through the wine’s oak to shine well into the long, fresh finish.  Classy and already very well integrated.  92

Bodegas Valderiz “Tomas Esteban” 2014 ($100):  Only about 3,500 bottles of this are made in an average year from two parcels wine vines averaging 80 or more years of age.  Although it is very rich and almost bottomless in its depth of flavor even while some years away from its apogee, it is still not an overblown “statement wine” (that’s my term; the Spanish used to refer to the genre as “high expression wines”) that is impressive but not really enjoyable to drink.  On the contrary, this is a wine of great class and lovely style, with wonderful cocoa accents on a deep berry fruit core, with very nicely calibrated oak accents.  I also tasted the 2010 release of this wine, which was even a bit better, yet still probably improving, with years of enjoyment still lurking under its cork.  Fantastic wines at this address.  96

Valduero Reserva 2014 ($50):  This is one of the largest and most venerable bodegas in the appellation, and though sheer size is often inversely correlated with quality, I was very impressed with the current red releases from Valduero.  Exceptionally impressive was the barrel work, as this address is home to a truly vast number of barrels, yet the oak is so well managed that each of the reds tasted as though it was tended by hand in an artisanal bodega.  This particular bottling is very rich and deeply flavored, easily counterbalancing the wood imparted by 30 months in barrel.  The texture is striking, and in more than one way, as the wine seems soft and almost “slippery” because the tannins are so fine-grained and well integrated, yet there is good grip in the finish to assure longevity as well as ability to stand up to robust foods.  Just as impressive is a very prominent streak of saline minerality that runs through the long finish.  Valduero makes a high-end “6 Años” bottling that sells for about $80 - $100, but notably less in Duty Free in the Madrid airport; I loved the 2012 and scored it at 96.  However, the value proposition for this wine is superior, and the 2014 was so delicious that I bought it from a Florida retailer as soon as I got back to my hotel room on the day I tasted it in Spain.  95

Valduero Crianza 2016 ($35):  I seized an opportunity to taste this more developed version of the 2018 "Tierra Alta 'Valduero 2 Maderas” (which is how the wine is now designated) that I tasted in Ribera del Duero in March when I found a few bottles available at retail in D.C., and the contrast was very interesting—if also quite difficult to diagnose.  This seemed more than two years more developed than the 2018, and was very complex, but a bit lacking in energy and potential for additional development.  That’s not a problem for the overwhelming majority of consumers who enjoy their wines shortly after buying them—indeed, it is an advantage.  At this juncture, this is as savory as it is fruity, with lots of interesting little nuances like cigar wrapper, wild sage and soft spices showing alongside mostly red fruit tones.  I can’t say whether or how much the winemaking process changed along with the name, or whether it is the 2016 vintage or just the additional two years of bottle age that explains the performance disparity between the two wines—but buy this for current consumption or the 2018 for more robust food or additional developmental capacity.  90

Vilano “Terra Incognita” 2019 ($40, Misa Imports):  Made from the estate’s oldest Tempranillo vines (including and brought up for 22 months in new French oak (and also undergoes malolactic fermentation in barrel), so this is clearly a serious effort, before one even pulls the cork.  And guess what?  It lives up to all its promising on-paper attributes.  Notably concentrated but neither heavy nor over-extracted nor over-oaked, it shows that the winemaker respected the fruit rather than trying to jack it up with cellar techniques, which was admirably wise.  I’m just a bit surprised that this wasn’t held for a bit longer before release, but what I tasted was a press sample straight from Spain, so perhaps this vintage isn’t yet in general release.  In any case, the wine is already delicious (at least to a palate like mine, that is constantly digging into new releases), and yet I have no doubt that it will improve considerably with another 5 years of cellaring at a minimum.  To be clear, it doesn’t need that much time to be enjoyed with food, as it is already very well balanced and impressively well integrated, but it will definitely benefit from that much aging to bring up tertiary aromas and flavors that will flesh out its full potential.  Terrific wine.  93

Vilano “Black” 2020 ($18, Misa Imports):  This interesting wine is brought up entirely in new French oak, but is only in the barrels for 9 months.  Quite contemporary in style, it is rich and full of fruit with nice spicy accents, but is emphatically a fruit-forward release with the wood accents showing up mostly on the finish rather than in the wine’s mid-palate.  At this price, with this much delicious, mouth-coating richness of fruit, this is a wine to reckon with in terms of commercial competitiveness.  Moreover, it is as well suited to restaurant applications as it is for retail sales direct to consumers, based on the strength of its performance right after the cork is pulled and the wine is poured, even at this young age.  91

Vilano Selección de Viñedos “La Baraja” 2016 ($40, Misa Imports):  A blend of 75% Tinta Fina, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, this is intended as a more internationally-styled release than the bodega’s other releases.  It is aged for 18 months in French oak (medium toast).  There’s no doubt that the styling objective was achieved—this is indeed international rather than regionally typical, and though it tastes as though it might have come from anywhere, it would be a very good wine regardless of where it was grown and made.  Dark fruit notes predominate here, and the Cabernet component is much more evident than whatever the Merlot contributed, so I think most tasters would find that this tastes like quite good Ribera with a big dollop of Cab in the mix.  The oak is notable but well balanced, as the core of fruit has a lot of flavor impact to keep the wood notes off to the side.  Most winemakers in the region weren’t overly enthusiastic about the 2016 vintage, and with that as context, this is quite a fine performance.  91

Vilano Crianza 2019 ($20, Misa Imports):  Crafted entirely from Tempranillo from vines of more than 25 years of age, this undergoes aging in American and French oak barrel for 14 months, and then see an additional 3 months of aging in the bottle before release.  It is nicely complex and will appeal to those with more traditional preferences than consumers who would be attracted by the more open, rich and fruity Roble “Black” (and will out-perform most wines from Rioja at this price level).  But the broader conclusion should be that this more developed and traditional wine is a great stablemate for the “Black” bottling, and whoever is making this styling decisions behind this line evidently knows what she or he is doing.  90

Vilano “Legón Premium” 2019 ($28, Misa Imports):  This looks like a “statement” wine based on its name and the very large and heavy bottle, but I see no information on the producer’s website, and the back label simply indicates that it is made from 100% Tempranillo vines of 25+ years of age and sees 24 months of aging in French oak barrels of unspecified new-ness.  The finished wine seems quite extracted, with lots of tannin and plenty of wood showing in both the mid-palate and finish, so this is certainly a wine best served with quite robust food—or sent to one’s cellar to soften and integrate.  The overall performance is good—if not quite up to the promise of the packaging—and the price is quite fair, but the roughness in the wine’s finish is a factor limiting its usefulness.  On balance, a success.  90

Viña Sastre (Ribera del Duero, Castilla y León, Spain) Pago de Santa Cruz Gran Reserva 2015 ($85):  This wine is still very reserved and tight for a 2015, which was a warm year that generally produced quite generous wines, but there’s no reason to worry that this won’t open up if you have a cellar and sufficient patience.  I tasted the 1999 vintage immediately before this (one retailer still has it in the USA, priced at $124 by the case), and that wine was still on the upswing, which is pretty damned impressive.  Although both wines obviously spent a lot of time in wood and were presumably made from the best fruit available on this sizeable estate, there’s nothing remotely overdone about either of them, and they really seem more “stylish” than “impressive.”  That’s a virtue in my estimation, and there’s a lot of pressure to “impress” once one gets into this price category.  This is a long-distance runner, and a very well-proportioned one, so only buy this if you have the right facilities and temperament.  If you do, you’ll surely find that my score is at least appropriately generous when you crack this open a decade from now.  93

Viña Sastre (Ribera del Duero, Castilla y León, Spain) Crianza 2018 ($36):  This rings up at a relatively high price for a Crianza, but it is very well grown and stylishly crafted, and proves worth the asking price.  It weighs in smack in the middle of medium-bodied, which in my opinion shows admirable restraint on the picking decision, and likewise in not trying to extract too much from the material with an overly long or aggressive maceration.  The balance of oak spice and toast to fruit is also quite well done, and some savory notes are already emerging to lend complexity.  That’s a bit early for a wine from 2018, but neither the tertiary aromas or flavors indicate premature development, so this wine is showing impressively well early, and should still develop in a positive direction.  92

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Whether you are a producer with a wine reviewed--or not reviewed--above, please feel encouraged to contact me directly with any questions, which I will gladly address, either regarding your wines or my recent trip to the region.  Also, if you are an interested consumer or a potential retailer or importer, please feel encouraged to contact me at [email protected]                       

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