Tempranillo Take Two: Ribero del Duero
After the past few days in the Cantabrian Mountains, the riders should welcome a flat race route, although anyone in contention for the General Classification (lowest cumulative time overall) will be nervous about today’s stage. The top ten list is stacked with formidable climbers. While they excel in the vertiginous mountain stages, they tend not to be such great time-trialists. Then there’s Tom Dumoulin, the 6’2” Dutchman, who looks like a giant alongside the tiny climbers, and who just happens to be a world-class time trial rider. Right now he holds fourth place overall, less than two minutes behind the leader, Purito Rodriguez, and much closer to Fabio Aru and Rafal Majka. If Dumoulin can ride at a blistering pace on Wednesday, chances are he could be wearing the red jersey at day’s end. Time trials tend to be light on spectator enjoyment; this one won’t be, so tune in.
I’ll be watching the race, albeit on my DVR later in the day, with a glass of Ribera del Duero wine in hand. It’s my favorite Spanish wine region, responsible for some of the most beautiful juice Tempranillo is capable of making. The area itself lies due south of Burgos, our velodrome today, and stretches along the upper valley of the Duero River (the eastern flow of the Douro River in Portugal.) The star of the show in Ribera del Duero is unquestionably Tempranillo, called Tinto Fino here, although it is occasionally blended with other varieties.
Local winemaking owes its success to two influential and history-changing wineries: Pesquera and Vega Sicilia. Unlike in Rioja, which received DO status back in 1926, Ribera del Duero received that distinction only in 1982. And early on, most wines were made through the growers’ cooperative, rather than on-site at the individual estates. Pesquera was the first winery to estate-bottle its wines, and was instrumental in changing the mind-set of others to do the same. Quality improved, and growth quickly followed.
Vega Sicilia, arguably the most famous of the region’s producers, has been in the game since 1864, when it introduced Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec vines from Bordeaux into its existing vineyards of Tinto Fino. Located east of the town of Valladolid, it makes three wines: Valbuena, which is released for sale only after spending five years in American oak; Único, their hallmark wine, which is made only in superior vintages and ages for 10 years before release; and the ultra-rare Reserva Especiál, a multi-vintage wine that bottles a blend of the best of the best vintages.
Since 1991, Vega Sicilia has also operated Bodega Alión, which makes Tempranillo-based wines that eschew the power of American oak in preference for the milder French oak barriques, a break with tradition that has found a legion of fans. In an expansion to the west, Vega Sicilia embarked on a new project in Toro DO in 2001. Pintia specializes in making wine from the Tinta de Toro clone of Tempranillo, one that does particularly well in the considerably hotter climate of this region just a stone’s throw from the Portuguese border.
For my Vuelta Vaso recommendation today, I send you to the Ribera del Duero shelf in the Spanish section of your favorite wine shop. Try one of the wines I mentioned, or discover a newcomer. These wines are widely available, and at a range of price points. As a food pairing, you can’t go wrong with a grilled steak. Whatever your choice, enjoy it, and Viva la Vuelta!