Ribera y Rueda: A Tale of Two Wines


Americans seem to be growing in curiosity about Spain. Numbers indicate Americans traveling to Spain are on the rise each year, while at the same time Spanish restaurants and tapas bars are spreading across the United States. There is even a growing awareness that much like France and Italy, Spain has a number of diverse wine regions with grapes and wine styles unique to each region. Rueda and Ribera del Duero are two such Spanish wine regions that should be on your radar.

Rueda and Ribera del Duero are located about an hour north of Madrid, flanking the city of Valladolid, along the Duero River in the Castilla y León region. Rueda is known for its production of white wines, 85% of which is Verdejo, the most consumed white wine in Spain. Rueda was the first in Castilla y León to receive DO status, having done so in 1980. Many of the 68 wineries here are small, family owned wineries that embrace the longstanding winemaking traditions of the region while producing a highly aromatic dry white wine that is ideal for the modern palate and global cuisine. The rocky soil, long cold winters and short springs, low average rainfall, large diurnal shifts, and abundance of sun exposure provide an ideal environment for Verdejo, a crisp, mineral driven, aromatic wine with fresh notes of citrus and herbs that wraps the palate in penetrating acidity and rich complexity.

Brahm Callahan, Master Sommelier, Corporate Beverage Director for Himmel Hospitality Group, and Rueda y Ribera Ambassador, shared his thoughts in an email as to why American wine consumers should add Verdejo to their white wine consumption: “I keep looking for a reason why these wines wouldn’t appeal to the American palate and I have yet to find one. At the most basic they are Pinot Grigio with personality. They are clean, with forward fruit and medium bodied. At their best they are compelling examples of a unique varietal that shows depth and concentration balanced by beautiful weight and distinct minerality. One of the reasons that whites are so popular in Spain is because of the value to quality ratio, and American consumers will find that their money goes really far here.” When looking for a crisp Spanish white wine think Verdejo of Rueda. But what about a red wine of equal quality?

Rueda has joined forces with Ribera del Duero to its east to offer the wine consumer the best of both worlds. Felipe Gonzalez-Gordon, US Director of the D.O. Ribera del Duero and D.O. Rueda, explained in an email the philosophy of joint marketing, “The US is a very large and competitive market, Ribera and Rueda are relatively small appellations, so combining their marketing efforts made sense. It's a question of scale and efficiencies. But it also makes sense because they are complementary appellation that are geographically very close. Ribera does red wines (from Tempranillo) almost exclusively and Rueda does white (from Verdejo). Additionally there are a number of companies that operate in both appellations.”

Ribera del Duero is known for Tempranillo. A land of extremes, Ribera del Duero experiences summertime temperatures reaching 100 degrees plus with long absences of rain, followed by winters where temperatures can plummet below zero. The diverse landscape, carved by the Duero River, is a collection of riverbanks, rolling hills, and high valleys that provide ideal sun exposure. Winemaking in Ribera del Duero dates back 2,000 years; however, it really began to take shape in 1982 when it received DO status. There are approximately 1,200 brands of wine produced here, ranging in classification from young reds to grand reserve, each an expression of the unique terroir of Ribera del Duero and the winemakers style.

Ribera del Duero offers its own unique clone of Tempranillo, called Tinto Fino. Brahm Callahan explains the difference between the Tempranillo of Ribera del Duero and Rioja, “I wouldn’t say it is Ribera instead of Rioja because while they are both technically based on Tempranillo the difference in clones (Tinto Fino in Ribera) results in a completely different varietal profile than Tempranillo from Rioja. When you add to that the difference in the climate, soils, and winemaking they really are two different experiences. I find the wines from Ribera to be more full bodied, generally have more lush fruit (as opposed to Rioja where classically the fruit profile is dried), and a more international profile than many of the wines from Rioja. It’s because of that lush fruit, dominant oak component, and generally fuller body that I think the wines from Ribera have a very bright future in the US.” The Tinto Fino Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero offers another wine option to consider along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chianti, and Barolo.

Felipe Gonzalez-Gordon explains why the American wine consumer should be drinking these two wines, “US consumers should know that Ribera del Duero is one of the most highly regarded wine regions in the world, producing wines that will appeal to consumers that like Cabernet Sauvignon, even though the wines are mostly made with Tempranillo. Ribera del Duero is Mecca when it comes to Tempranillo. Regarding Rueda, Verdejo is the number one white wine selling in Spain. It's crisp, it is fresh, it is flavorful... it's a wine that will appeal to Pinot Grigio drinkers because it delivers so much more and it will also win the palates of Sauvignon Blanc drinkers because it's doesn't not have that greenness to it, it's got more fruit.”

Here are some Verdejos from Rueda and Tempranillos from Ribera del Duero to explore:

2016 Bodegas Viore Verdejo Rueda ($15): Pale gold with green hues into the glass; medium aromas of green apples and pears, slightly under-ripe tropical fruit, melon, white floral notes, and grassy notes; a pleasing feminine palate with bright fruit and floral notes in a medium body with a penetrating acidity and long, clean finish.

2016 Jose Pariente Verdejo Rueda ($20): Pale gold with green hues into the glass; pronounced aromas of green fruit, tropical fruit with lots of passion fruit, white floral notes and grassy notes; clean and dry on the palate with a flirt of sweetness as a result of the wine’s pH level, round acidity and medium body in a refreshing and pleasing wine.

2016 Alvarez y Diez Mantel Blanco Verdejo Rueda ($13.99): Pale gold with green hues; pronounced aromatic notes of white flowers, ripe tropical fruit, a touch of grassy and green fruit notes; smooth and creamy texture on the palate with pronounced acidity that adds a pleasing zestiness and depth.

2016 Javier Sanz Verdejo Rueda ($15.99): Pale gold with green hues; pronounced bright aromas of white flowers, tropical fruit, green fruit, and almonds; racy on the palate with pronounced acidity for a lively mouth-feel and long crisp finish.

2005 Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva Ribera del Duero ($399): One of the world’s most iconic wines; it poured a deep garnet with brown rim in the glass; complex pronounced aromas of dried red and black fruit, medicinal notes, dried rose petals, Chinese Five Spice, eucalyptus, dark chocolate covered roasted espresso beans, trailing hint of leather, and vanilla; rich and round on the palate, a wine crafted for age-ability yet was drinking so beautifully, lively with an elegant lift off the palate, rich and full-bodied, wrapping the palate in sensuous velvet, a wine with lots of life remaining as is evident in its long finish.

2013 Protos Crianza Ribera del Duero ($20): Deep ruby in the glass; pronounced aromas of bright red and black fruit, sweet baking spice, graphite, rose petals, toffee, dried tobacco; integrated tannins balanced with medium+ acidity for an elegant mouth-feel, layers of flavors wrap the palate in a full-body wine with a long, juicy finish.

2014 Real Sitio de Ventosilla ‘Prado Rey Crianza’ Valdelayegua Vendimia Seleccionada, Ribera del Duero ($14): 95% Tempranillo, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot; Deep ruby in the glass; pronounced aromas of red and black fruits slightly cooked, warm baking spice notes, dried rose petals, balsamic, sweet fresh tobacco, dusty earth, and vanilla; bold on the palate with grippy tannins and medium+ acidity, a long full body wine with a lingering cooked fruit and spice finish.

2012 Bodegas Conde Neo ‘Neo’ Ribera del Duero ($12): Deep ruby in the glass; pronounced aromas of ripe dark berries and plums, sweet tobacco leaves, dried herbs including eucalyptus, sweet baking spice notes, and vanilla; juicy on the palate with well-integrated tannins balanced with medium+ acidity for a rich mouth-feel, full body, elegantly long finish.

2014 Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero ($20): Deep ruby with purple hues in the glass; pronounced aromas of ripe black and red fruits, baking spice and Chinese 5 spice, roasted espresso beans, dried savory herbs, fresh roses, vanilla; rich full body wine with layers of flavors, integrated and balanced tannins and acidity, and a long, juicy fruit finish.

Felipe Gonzalez-Gordon says it best, “Ribera and Rueda have a broad appeal. What's not to like when noble grapes, ideal growing conditions and passionate winemakers come together? The results can be pretty awesome.” He is right!

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Tracy White
    1616100 22

    Is that Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva really $399 a bottle or is there some huge typo?

    May 16, 2017 at 10:18 PM

  • Hi Tracy. Thanks for your question. Vega Sicilia is one of the world's most iconic wineries. Unico is their flagship wine. Yes, it is $399 a bottle. I realize that price puts it out of reach for many winelovers. However, it is an incredible wine and something to save for. Furthermore, Vega Sicilia is comparable iconically to Mouton-Rothschild, Domaine Romanee Conti, and Tenuta San Guido. Compared to Rothschild and DRC, Unico is much less expensive, and runs about $100 more than Sassicaia.

    May 17, 2017 at 1:48 PM

  • Snooth User: virginia12
    2145697 12

    This is a fine written, perceptive article about remarkable Italian wines. Who would have thought that a 7 Hectare plot mounting merlot grapes in Tuscany would be answerable for possibly the most astounding wine to come out of Italy.I wrote an essay about wine in the site( https://usawriters.org/ ) Thanks!

    Aug 16, 2017 at 5:43 AM

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