If when you think of Spain, you get stuck in a Rioja rut, ease your way out gently with this gem...
Like many Spanish reds, the purple teeth rating is high. You will need whitening toothpaste for this one, but it is worth the extra brushing.
Made from Tempranillo, (known in this area by the synonym "Tinto Fino") and aged for 16 months in American oak, the Condado de Haza, Ribera del Duero 2009 Crianza will appeal to fans of Rioja Crianza. For my money it has a bit more appeal, with lots of oomph. (A reminder of the significance of Spanish wine terms such as Crianza can be found here).
A) drinking Ribera del Duero again
B) visiting Burgos
C) disbelieved when I told this story
What I couldn't have known is that:
A) I'd found the home of what was to become one of my all-time favourite favourite wines: the iconic and expensive Vega Sicilia "Valbuena".
B) I'd end up visiting Burgos' magnificent Gothic cathedral on one of the busiest festival days of the year. I witnessed some incredible fireworks and parades to local hero, El Cid, whose crypt is in the cathedral. (The area's well worth a visit, even though it's not the heart of the wine land. The cathedral has been a World Heritage site since 1984),
C) Perhaps most outlandish of all, I could never have guessed I'd end up teaching this Spanish opera singer to sing Kenneth McKeller renditions of Robert Burns' songs, while he taught me songs in Spanish, as we spoke to each other in French.
But yes, all of this arose from that one party.
So it is, that ever since, whenever I've seen Ribera del Duero, at almost any price point, I've had to try it.
The first one I ever tried was Pesquera, an iconic wine that's at least partly responsible for the fame and fortune of the Ribera del Duero, made by Alejandro Fernandez. Alejandro is the wine maker who made the single vineyard Condado de Haza we're drinking now. Pesquera will probably set you back around Â£5 more (it's around Â£20). I think it's worth it but if you've not tasted a Ribera del Duero yet, you'll probably want to work up the ladder.
It's a steep ladder. After the aforementioned party, I visited the Spanish shop in my Swiss hometown. Naively I asked for a bottle of Ribera del Duero. The shopkeeper asked my budget. I asked coyly how much it was. "Anything from 20CHF to 300CHF" was the answer. Please bear in mind this was in the mid 1990s. Needless to say, I started at the 20 Swiss Franc level! I was much less discerning in those days, but it was still a fantastic bottle.
While I offer this as an alternative for Rioja, fans of big Australian Shiraz should enjoy it too. I served it to Mr Purple Teeth blind. He felt it had a hint of one of the McLaren Vale wines we drink regularly. This is a big wine, full of dark fruits, spice with vanilla and leather notes coming from the oak aging. The tannins are well structured but softened & velvety. The body is full and there are hints of cocoa on the finish which add to the sensation of luxury. The style of many Rioja wines has changed over recent years, becoming bigger and fruitier, since wines like this came to prominence in Ribera del Duero,.
I was lucky enough to get my bottle discounted to Â£13. I ought to have picked up a couple, as it's a challenge to pick up Riberas as cheaply as Riojas. It's a smaller region with a harsher terroir. Situated on the northern plateau at anything from 750 to 900m above sea level, there's quite an extreme continental climate with huge seasonal temperature variations (-18Â°C in winter to +40Â°C in summer) as well as a big range within seasons and even within days. But with over 2400 sunlight hours per year and around 450mm of rainfall, it's still possible to get decent wines at under Â£10. For example the Altos de Tamaron in the Tesco Finest range is an entry level wine similar in style to cosecha Riojas, and one we've happily drunk several times. It does vary a little by vintage, but often comes up on very good special offers and usually flies off the shelves.
I'd also happily recommend the Cepa Gavilan (Â£10.50 from The Wine Society) as a good example of the "entry level" wines in the oaked style.
Should you get the opportunity to try the iconic Vega Sicilia, please jump at the chance and let me know what you think. One of my most approving glances ever from a sommelier came when ordering a bottle in a top restaurant in Spain. Luckily there, the restaurant prices are similar to what we pay retail in the UK (around Â£90-100 for the Valbuena).
I do hope you'll try and enjoy the wines of this region, and grow to love them as I do. Even my Rioja-eschewing husband enjoys them.
Meanwhile, here's a clip of the man who introduced me to this great wine region, gave me an interest in learning Spanish and also a couple of singing lessons. Hopefully, I've done the same for you. I'll leave the singing to him though!