Ultimate Guide to the Ribera del Duero Wine Region

Spanish town in southern plains of the province of Burgos in Ribera del Duero.
Within the Ribera del Duero wine region, the Tinto Fino grape is responsible for approximately 95 percent of all wine production. See more wine pictures. ­

­If you were a wine connoisseur searching for the best wines 30 years ago, the Ribera del Duero wine region probably wouldn­'t have even registered a blip on your radar screen.

Thirty years ago, this central Spanish region was mass-producing wines of little value without any kind of regulation­ or designation to ensure quality. Since then, however, not only has the Ribera del Duero wine region achieved a Designation of Origin, or DO, status, it is now a legitimate contender against Spain's traditional wine powerhouses, Rioja and Priorat. The region is even popular enough to claim the most expensive wine in all of Spain, made by Vega Sicilia [source: The Wine Doctor].


­And though the climate is much more extreme than you might expect from a wine-producing region -- think 100 degree (60 degree Celsius) differences -- the region doesn't focus on making extreme wines [source: Ribera del Duero]. Rather than spreading themselves across the board on whites, reds, rosés and sparkling wines, the Ribera del Duero wine region focuses on doing one thing and doing it well -- reds. And while the region does make several reds (as well as a few rosés and one white), Ribera del Duero is overwhelmingly devoted to a single grape that makes a single Spanish wine, the Tinto Fino, which you may know as the Tempranillo. This lone grape is responsible for approximately 95 percent of all wine production in the region [source: Cellar Tours].

Though the Ribera del Duero wine region has put all of its eggs in one proverbial basket, the gamble has paid off, and the region is now famous for its reds. Learn the history, agriculture and famous wines of Ribera del Duero so you can be ahead of the curve on this newly popular region. Start by visiting the next page, where you'll discover how the Ribera del Duero wine region got its start.


Ribera del Duero Wine Region History and Culture

The discovery of an ancient Roman mosaic that depicted winemaking in Ribera del Duero ensures that winemaking has been a part of the region's history for at least 2,000 years [source: Ribera del Duero]. It wasn't however, until around the 1200s that winemaking really grew into what we would recognize as similar to winemaking today. By then, the region had established regular wine production, even going so far as to have trading, exports and underground cellars. By the 1400s, ordinances and other measures were already being put in place to control the region's wine production, in addition to its trade and taxes.

But it would take more than 500 years for controls regarding quality to be put in place. Designation of Origin, or DO, status was only achieved in 1982 [source: CIV USA]. Prior to this, wine production quality was not controlled in Ribera del Duero, and therefore it suffered. Thanks to the relatively recent success of the Tinto Fino grape, however, Ribera del Duero winemaking has been put on the map.


Today, approximately 112 vineyards or bodegas cultivate a variety of grapes throughout the 7,400-acre (3,000-hectare) area of Ribera del Duero. One of these vineyards has been producing wine continuously for more than a century -- the renowned Vega Sicilia winery has been producing wines since 1864 [source: Di Wine Taste].

Read on to learn how the extreme temperatures of the Ribera del Duero region lead to its fine grapes.


Ribera del Duero Wine Region Agriculture

When thinking of grapes, viticulture and winemaking, you might be tempted to think of a temperate, moderate climate. Maybe add a lot of sun, not too much rain, and a mild winter. Throw in a cool summer breeze or a Mediterranean-style climate, and you've got the vast majority of winemaking regions covered. Ribera del Duero, however, doesn't follow such a pattern.

The Ribera del Duero wine region, rather, is all about extremes. How extreme? Think of sweltering summers topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) and lengthy winters that dip into the negatives -- 0 degrees and below Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) [source: Ribera del Duero]. These extremes lead to shorter growing seasons, but Ribera del Duero growers somehow make the most of it. Some believe, in fact, that these extreme climates help the Tinto Fino, Ribera del Duero's predominant grape, keep its acidity better than its counterpart from other Spanish areas, the Tempranillo [source: CIV USA]. Of course, amid the extremes, Ribera del Duero does benefit from little rainfall and a good amount of sunshine.


This river valley, located in central Spain north of Madrid, has loose, sedimentary soil, giving it a fertile base. Certain areas do include limestone, marl, chalk and iron within the soil as well. And, the closer you get to the river, the more clay content you'll find in the soil beneath your feet [source: Ribera del Duero].

Read on to discover the wines that are behind the success of the Ribera del Duero wine region.


Famous Wines of the Ribera del Duero Wine Region

If you're seeking wines from Ribera del Duero, you're seeking one thing -- reds. In fact, the region only grows one lone type of white grape, the Albillo, and it's generally reserved for local wine [source: Spanish Fiestas]. So unless you're planning a trip to the Ribera del Duero wine region, if you're looking to try a Ribera del Duero wine, you're stuck with reds. Luckily, there is a reason Ribera del Duero is known for its reds -- they're the best.

The most famous wine of the Ribera del Duero wine region is, unequivocally, the red wine made exclusively from Tinta Fino, or Tempranillo (see more about this grape in the sidebar). The Tinto Fino grape is responsible for more than 90 percent of all wine production within the Ribera del Duero Wine Region [source: Cellar Tours]. This wine, as with many wines of the Ribera del Duero region, is mono-varietal, meaning it is only made from a single variety of grape [source: Dawes]. In this case, it's the Tinta Fino and it's often labeled "Tempranillo."


There are some multi-varietal reds and rosés in Ribera. These include Cabernets, Garnachas (Grenaches) and Merlots [source: Dawes]. While Ribera del Duero reds are often aged for years -- sometimes several decades -- if you're looking for a young wine, try a rosé. Ribera del Duero's rosés are ready soon after they are produced [source: Ribera del Duero].

For more wine-related information, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Brown, Corie. "Vintage pleasures in Spain's Ribera del Duero wine country." LA Times. August 24, 2007. (Accessed 2/16/09) http://travel.latimes.com/articles/la-tr-spain26aug26?content=nd+architecture+had+been+preserved.&single_page=y#show
  • Cellar Tours. "Profile of Wine Region, Ribera del Duero." (Accessed 2/16/09) http://www.cellartours.com/spain/spanish-wine-regions/ribera-del-duero.html
  • CIV USA. "Denomincation de origen Ribera del Duero." (Accessed 2/16/09) http://www.civusa.com/consumerCenter/regions/riberaRegion.html
  • Dawes, Gerry. "Ribera del Duero: Wine Adventures in Castilla y Leon." Indian Wine Academy. December 3, 2007. (Accessed 2/16/09) http://www.indianwineacademy.com/dm_178_item_4.asp
  • Di Wine Taste. "Ribera del Duero." Summer 2005. (Accessed 2/16/09) http://www.diwinetaste.com/dwt/en2005092.php
  • Furer, David. "Ribera del Duero awaits appellation upgrade." Decanter. March 29, 2007. (Accessed 2/16/09) http://www.decanter.com/news/114630.html
  • Ribera del Duero. "El Corazon del Duero." (Accessed 2/16/09) http://www.riberadelduero.es/eng/wine/ourwines.asp
  • Spanish Fiestas. "Ribera del Duero Wine Region." (Accessed 2/16/09) http://www.spanish-fiestas.com/wine/ribera-del-duero-wine.htm
  • The Wine Doctor. "Spanish Wine Guide." (Accessed 2/16/09) http://www.thewinedoctor.com/regionalguides/spain.shtml
  • Wines from Spain. "D.O. Ribera del Duero." (Accessed 2/16/09) http://www.winesfromspain.com/icex/cda/controller/pageGen/0,3346,1549487_4946338_4944445_1114_-1,00.html