Ribera del Duero

While the northern Spanish region of Ribera del Duero has only risen to prominence as a quality wine region over the last few decades, the relatively recent discovery of a 66-metre mosaic of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, confirmed what locals had always known: wine making in the region has been part of Ribera del Duero’s culture for centuries.

Which may strike some as odd, given the area’s hostile terrain. A bleak, rocky landscape with high altitudes, a short and intense growing season and the constant threat of spring-time frosts creates something of a disconnect with the world-class wines the region produces. But Ribero del Duero owes its unlikely success to the vision of one man: Eloy Lecanda y Chaves.

Lecanda inherited a property – the now renowned Vega Sicillia – in 1864, and set about transforming its scrubby fields into an agricultural estate, importing the best vines from Bordeaux and using the most innovative wine-producing techniques available at the time. The wines he produced, aged for up to a decade in an odd assortment of barrels, have since acquired legendary status.

The estate changed hands several times, but such was its impact on the region that in 1982 Ribera del Duero became a denominación de origen, at the time home to just nine registered wineries – today there are over 200.

The region’s exceptional native grape, Tempranillo (known also as Tinto del Paid or Tinto Fino), has been instrumental in securing Ribero del Duero’s rise to fame. A superb 100% blend has consistently given Rioja a run for its money (Vega Sicillia produces a critically-acclaimed version – also Spain’s most expensive wine), while Alejandro Fernandez, founder of Pesquera, shook things up in the 1970s by blending Tempranillo with a little Cabernet Sauvignon. The result, a zesty and structured injection into an already fruity wine, has been lauded abundantly by renowned critic Robert Parker.