Ribera del Duero - Intense Tempranillos of Spain

Ribera del Duero - Intense Tempranillos of Spain

Posted by Michael Hutton on

Dominio Cair - Ribera del Duero

After our focus on Rioja and Navarra, this week we focus on the wine region of Ribera del Duero in Northern Spain. We import the superb wines of 'CAIR', offering three quality tiers of this top wine region. 

Tempranillo is Spain's most widely grown red grape, it's native home. It's therefore no surprise that they produce 87% of the world's Tempranillo, and this is spread all over Spain, including the giant region La Mancha south of Madrid, the Mediterranean region of Penedes near Barcelona, and even in Andalusia in the far South. The great examples of Tempranillo however are in the North.

There are three great appellations in Northern Spain that specialise in Tempranillo: Rioja of course, Toro, and Ribera del Duero.

Winemaking has occurred here for 2500 years, predating Roman influence. A famous Roman mosaic was discovered in 1972 honouring Bacchus. Strangely it is only in 1982 that the Ribera del Duero wine region is officially recognised as its own formal appellation.

'Ribera' is home to some of Spain's most treasured and expensive wines including the internationally acclaimed Vega Sicilia. The Duero River that gives the region it's name runs east to west, crossing the border into Portugal where it becomes the 'Douro' River, running through the Port wine region.

Geographically, Ribera del Duero lies 120km northwest of Madrid, on both sides of the Duero River. The wine region is roughly 115km long, and 35km 'wide'. A long freezing in winter, and scorching arid summer, this is an extreme continental climate.

There are a myriad of different soils, that contribute to the complexity of the wines in the region. There is plenty of clay, large river stones, and sandy soils. There are 30 recognised soil types in the vineyards, the most elegant and most vaunted are those with high limestone content.

Without a doubt the king grape in Rioja is Tempranillo, locally referred to as 'Tinto Fina' (literally 'Fine Red'). About 10% of the vines in Ribera are over 80 years old, another reason for the intensity and quality of the wines here.

Ribera vs Rioja

Some might call Ribera 'the fancy little brother' of Rioja... There are obvious similarities yet a few key differences between the wines of Ribera del Duero and Rioja. Firstly is the altitude. Ribera sits between 700-1000 meters above sea level that makes it one of the highest wine regions in Europe. This compares to much of Rioja being on a plateau at 450m, (Central Otago vineyards average about 300m).

Secondly, the grape variety mix is different. Rioja blends Tempranillo with other Spanish grape varieties such as Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo. In Ribera del Duero the blending grapes are typically Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Also in Ribera there is a higher use of French oak barrels for aging, compared to Rioja that uses a higher portion of American oak. The formal classification of quality tiers is the same for both.

The combination then of the different climate, elevation, soils, oak, and blending grapes mean stylistic differences in the wines. Ribera del Duero wines tend to be more intensely coloured, more concentrated in body, more black fruit flavours (more red fruit in Rioja), and more tannic too. That said, there is still wide variation in the wines based on where and how the wines are made.

Dominio de Cair is the creation of famous Rioja winemaker Luis Canas, the name being a combination of his name and his business partner Juan José Iribecampos. Together they founded a cutting edge modern winery using old and treasured vineyards from the heart of Ribera del Duero. Now three generations of Canas family are in the business.

The vineyards are from a selected group of vineyards across three villages in the region. Here is the ancient village of Moradillo de Roa, answering the question of what a Spanish hobbit hole would look like.

The particular site and age of the vines determine which of the wines the grapes are destined for. The oldest and low yielding 70+ year old vines are reserved for their top wines, pictured here after their winter pruning, with young new plantings in the background.

Even the barrel room is a work of art, shaped like the inside of a barrel itself.

We import three tiers of quality of the CAIR wines. The Cair Cuvée is a blend of grapes from the three villages, 85% Tempranillo blended with 15% Merlot for added smoothness. All handpicked from vines 20-25 years old and matured in a mix of French and American oak.

The Reserva wine of CAIR is labeled 'Tierras de Cair' - all from very low yielding high altitude Tempranillo vines over 75 years old. The grapes are double-sorted, then individually berry picked to ensure top quality, fermentation followed by 18 months in all new French oak, and extended bottle age before release.

The middle tier Seleccion 'La Aguilera' is solely from the village of La Aguilera, vines all over 45 years old planted on slopes and terraces at 820-870m elevation. 100% Tempranillo, a "Crianza" level of quality due to the extended barrel aging including 50% new barrels.

All three wines will enjoy more time in the cellar, and if opening now would benefit from plenty of decanting / aeration.

Check out more detail on each of the three wines, and the specials here.

We're delighted to bring these wonderful wines into New Zealand!

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