03/14/06 – Ribera del Duero

By Jesse on March 14, 2006


This past weekend, I had the sobering experience — well, I guess “sobering” is the wrong word — of being the only Young Wino of LA attending Saturday’s tasting at Vendome. However, I represented us well by getting really drunk and giving the e-mail address to a very nice young lady who didn’t seem to really want it but whose mother insisted that she check out the group. So far, no e-mail. I think I scared her off when the guy brought out a swill bucket and I was like, “oh, so let me tell you about this one kid Don… who, incidentally, is my roommate and very good friend.”

Anyway, this week we’re moving on to Spain, which is hugely exciting. Spain is third in the world in wine production, but it has the highest total acreage planted with grapes. So why doesn’t it produce the most wine, you’re asking me? Largely because many of the grapes are planted in hot, arid regions where the vines aren’t very bountiful. The hottest and most arid of those regions is Ribera del Duero, the home to centuries worth of Castilian kings as well as the region’s most famous (albeit fictional) resident, Don Quixote. (To be fair, Ribera del Duero is a wine region that isn’t exactly interchangeable with the geographical region of “La Mancha,” but there is some overlap, particularly in terms of climate, history, and customs. So if you can picture Don Quixote riding across the dry mountains and plains of La Mancha, just picture some grapevines growing along the side, and you’ve got Ribera del Duero.)

I think Spain is a little easier to approach than Italy or France, and I say that because each of those two other countries has quite a few significant wine regions. We only covered two of the French ones, so we’ll be returning there soon, and while we managed to touch on most of the important Italian regions, we didn’t have time to get them all. Spain, on the other hand, has only five (maybe six) regions worth checking out, and they each have a unique specialty: Rioja does the famous Tempranillo reds, Jerez does Sherry, Rias Baixas does Spain’s best whites, Penedes does sparkling wines, and Ribera del Duero does complex reds that rank among Spain’s best.

–“But Jesse, why aren’t we starting with Rioja? I thought Rioja was Spain’s most well-known region.” Nicely done, Andrew, Rioja definitely is Spain’s preeminent wine region. However, Ribera del Duero might be a better starting point. Less pressure on us, y’know? Rather than jumping straight into Spain’s signature wine, lets introduce ourselves to the country via a region that’s not as well-known, but definitely rivals Rioja in quality.
–“What grapes are used in Ribera del Duero?” Good question, Daryn — the major grape is Tanto Fino, which composes basically all Ribera del Duero wines. It’s thought to be a mutation of Tempranillo.
–“Are we tasting red or white tomorrow?” As it says about six lines up, Brett, Ribera del Duero does red wines. Can you stop wasting my time, ya think?
–“What words should I be looking for on the bottle this week?” I’m so glad to hear you ask that, Sunil. Basically look for the region “Ribera del Duero” or perhaps the Tanto grape. If you see the word “Reserva” stamped on the label, that’s a sign of higher quality.
–“I lived in Spain and I don’t really think you know what you’re talking about.” Well, Hillary, I’m copying it straight out of the book, so I really don’t know what to tell you.

We’ll be meeting at Jason’s house in Brentwood. Here are the address and some directions: (too exclusive for you)

Bring a bottle of that special Ribera del Duero red, and don’t worry about bringing extra glasses, cause Jason’s the glassmaster. We’ll see you all on Wednesday night at 9:00.