Félix Solís Ramos, export manager for wineries belonging to the Felix Solis Avantis Group
Ribera del Duero had a solid reputation in the 1990s and 2000, with concentrated, very ‘woody’ flavoured wines which appealed, in particular, to the American market. Today, this ‘fashion’ seems to have waned and the style of the wines has changed. What position does the D.O. occupy in the world today and what is its future?
Things have changed a lot since the Designation of Origin was first revealed to the world in the 1990s, so we wanted to know what the wineries thought about its outlook. Here are the opinions of some of key industry members.
“Ribera de Duero is a young Designation of Origin (it is only 35 years old, although wineries like Protos have been marketing wines from this region since 1927), whose reputation has been growing since the 1990s. The key to its success lies in the quality of its wines, that is, by combining intensity, strength and structure with elegance, complexity and persistence. In addition to this is their ability to keep well, thereby enabling them to mature down the years. The use of wood may vary from the more aggressively heavy toast of American oak to the lighter toast of French oak, which is more subtle and has a greater fruit-wood balance in the final wines, but the attributes that make them increasingly highly prized (intensity and elegance) have not changed.”
“I think that wines from Ribera del Duero are more valued and more internationally famous than they were in the 1990s or in 2000, when their real market was Spain, and to some extent the United States, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Now Ribera del Duero wines are distributed in many more countries and are regarded as Spanish wines of the highest quality. However, they have not enjoyed as effective promotion abroad as Rioja wines. So, I think that in this respect there is a long way to go. With regard to quality, I think that it has matured to meet more international and current styles. The wines are less ‘woody’, fruitier and easier to drink, which is good for responding to current trends.”
“Therefore, I think that Ribera del Duero will play a more significant role in the future of Spanish wine worldwide, with products that are better suited to the international consumer and good global distribution. It will, of course, require greater promotion and marketing for the DO to continue to be recognised as an alternative to Rioja outside Spain.”
Carlos Villar is the managing director of Bodegas Protos, a winery located in Peñafiel, in the Province of Valladolid
“The Ribera del Duero of the 1980s and 90s is nothing like the current Ribera del Duero. It was a Designation of Origin that was largely undeveloped. This made it a very attractive opportunity for investment given the expertise of winegrowers and the few wine producers there were at the time, the most important of whom was Vega Sicilia, apart from some notable exceptions.
In the 1970s, rosé production predominated and this was because in the ‘cotarros’ - the hills excavated around the villages - the small wineries clustered there were so small that they had to press the grapes at the gate. In the middle of the 1990s, the first wines were being widely produced and vineyards planted following technical criteria such as soil analysis to prevent chlorosis and other issues arising from planting vines without checking aspects like the high limestone content, for example. The grapes were very good; so, with agricultural improvement, results were spectacular.
The first red wines were concentrated and maderised in a bid to establish a pattern in which new wood and reds would replace the work of thinning grape clusters and ripening the tannins in the grapes. Importance was given to alcohol content and concentration regardless of where the grapes came from.
For over a decade, winemaking practices were established in order to achieve natural concentration and appropriate ripening by reducing productivity through cluster thinning. Average vineyard elevations had also risen and this helped vines to become less vigorous and caused tannin content to rise.
Hence, we have arrived at a point where the sector is beginning to recognise that you do not have to make wine following set guidelines, but rather meet the demand of consumers who place balance and elegance before potency and concentration.
This said, from the outset we placed more importance on these two attributes.”
The first Spanish woman to become a Master of Wine, Almudena Alberca, is the technical director for Bodegas Viña Mayor, which belongs to the Bodegas Palacio Group.
“Wine styles develop over time and through trends, and they change according to the climate. Ribera wines have gone through several stages, and they have always been recognised for their concentration and use of new, high quality wood. Current trends demand wines that are more centred on source, with less impact from the wood. Currently, the region is home to wines of both styles. The Designation is recognised in international markets, especially in the United States, Mexico and some European markets. However, we have to write the future and plan it now. It should be based on the pillars of professional winegrowing and diversity of regions, soils and climates. This is currently the philosophy behind our work at Viña Mayor, with a style that seeks to render the authenticity of the Designation and highlight the best quality; to consolidate styles and adapt regulations to achieve the final objective, which is the recognition of quality in the region. Great objectives have already been realised, but we need to work continuously towards positive development.”
César Maté Aparicio, Winemaker at Bodegas Marta Maté
“Wine fashion and changes in its organoleptic features are firstly subject to the need human beings have for change in tastes and secondly, to international consultants who have a great ability to influence public opinion. Hence, the mature, concentrated wines of the 1990s have been evolving into more elegant, fresh wines which, with the aid of new cuisine, makes wines more suitable for gourmet foods and easy to pair.
The Designation of Origin is located in a privileged setting, partly because of the climate and the unique geomorphological characteristics that are ideal for ripening grapes. You might call it ‘a paradise for Tempranillo’ (or ‘tinto fino’).
The future is unclear. Large industrialised winery groups entering the Designation of Origin are changing the performance methods of winegrowers and small wineries, thereby creating a division between wines and qualities. Because of this, I think that we have to re-discover our personality and identity, which are necessary for us to continue growing and keep us in the privileged places where exciting wines are made.”
Based on these comments, the following conclusions can be made:
- Ribera de Duero D.O. wines have shown remarkable development, specifically because of consumer demand that has been leading the drive to reduce oak influence in order to give the wines more finesse and make them more palatable.
- Considering the age of the Designation of Origin, there is a long way to go and for that, producers have to continue working along current lines.
- The region must be promoted, maintaining the authenticity and inherent characteristics of the soils of Ribera de Duero
By Santiago Jiménez