One of Spain’s genuinely legendary winemaking regions, the pristinely rural Ribera de Duero in central Spain, is home to some of the world’s best and most exclusive red wines and an alluring destination for wine tasting tours. Laid out on a sprawling plateau along the banks of the Duero River, just 120km north of Madrid, Ribera del Duero is a land of extremes. Biting winters, sun-bleached summers, and high altitudes work hand-in-hand with clayey, silty and limestone soils to create the ideal conditions for Tinto Fino, the local name for the Tempranillo grape, which makes up 95 percent of wine production.
The heart of the Ribera del Duero is the Milla de Oro, or Golden Mile, a short strip of land hugging the Duero River (which runs west toward Portugal, slicing through the Spanish wine regions of Toro and Rueda before becoming the Douro and nourishing Portugal’s Douro and Porto regions). The Milla de Oro looks no different than the countless rows of vineyards cutting across the landscape nearby, but this is the home of iconic wineries like Vega Sicilia, Pingus, Abadia Retuerta, and Mauro. It was the unique terroir here that first proved that this often harsh and arid region was capable of producing exquisitely expressive reds that would become renowned worldwide.
If you’re searching for bold reds, look no further. Ribera del Duero answers the call with aromatic Tinto Fino wines that seduce with their intensity and balance. Miniscule quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Garnacha, Malbec and Merlot are also grown, although these varieties are used almost exclusively for blending. You can expect a top Ribera del Duero to be above all structured, with good body and powerful fruit flavors that rub shoulders with none-too-subtle woody notes. Excellent vintages include 1989, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2004.
Wine has been made in the area since the Roman era, but in a story repeated throughout the world, it only became widespread with the arrival of monasteries. Although producers like Vega Sicilia have been making world-class wine here for more than a century, the region’s true winemaking boom did not come until the late 20th century. These days, however, the region has a sealed reputation for outstanding quality and good value. A total of nearly 56 million bottles of wine were labeled in 2007, and Ribera del Duero is second only to Rioja in the volume of DO wine sold within Spain.
Although Ribera del Duero is above all a rural region, with vast swaths of vineyards standing between each town, several lovely villages are scattered about. Winemaking is centered in the towns of Peñafiel, Roa, Aranda de Duero, and San Esteban de Gormaz, which all sit along the banks of the Duero. The region straddles four historic Spanish provinces: Burgos, Segovia, Soria, and Valladolid, so monuments including medieval cathedrals, Roman-era constructions, fortresses, and castles are within easy driving distance to the vineyards and winemaking villages. Throughout the region, you will find the hearty countryside cuisine central Spain is famous for rich pork dishes and delicious cured Spanish Ham, flavorful sheep cheeses, roasted lamb and wonderful stews.
There are some 250 wineries spread across the region’s 20,000 hectares of vineyards, with varying degrees of quality among them. The region’s best-known winery is the world famous Vega Sicilia, founded in 1864.