Spain's most prestigious region for red and white wine

The World is Listening

Exalted Coverage

The Media Turns Its Gaze on Ribera y Rueda

Article

One of the absolute best wines for food... I'll give you a hint...it's not Rioja!

JOSÉ ANDRÉS

The World is Listening

Article by James Beard Award-winning author Laura Werlin @cheezelady

Ribera del Duero and Rueda wines are on the rise. Just ask the media. Recent coverage in prominent publications like Forbes, the Robb Report, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, The Drinks Business, Decanter, The World Wine Guys, Jancis Robinson, Vinous, and a Special Report by Tim Atkin, MW just to name a few, confirms this. These regions are turning heads, and it’s nice to know that esteemed publications and wine professionals are doing so too.

Chefs are no exception. The most coveted and highly scored Tempranillos in Spain have long graced award-winning restaurant wine lists, and that shows no sign of slowing down. And when one of the world’s most prominent Spanish chefs calls out Rueda Verdejo as one of the “absolute best wines for food,” as José Andrés did in a recent edition of his newsletter Longer Tables with José Andrés, you take notice.

In fact, when it comes to Rueda Verdejo, chefs aren’t the only ones giving it a second look. Wine Enthusiast turned its attention to the Rueda native, bestowing 34 wines with a rating of 90 or higher. Decanter magazine commemorated World Verdejo Day by highlighting some of its favorite Verdejos, almost entirely from Rueda, and The Drinks Business wrote a lengthy article on why Spain’s number one-selling white wine is worthy of serious attention. They rated ten wines accordingly. They also made special note of these wines’ value. Suffice it to say, Rueda Verdejo is consistently one-upping wines in its category and punching above its weight every time.

In fact, Verdejo is no longer just a grape; it’s a movement. While it has long been Spain’s number one-selling white wine, it is now on menus side by side with Spain’s other great white wines – Albariño and Cava. Part of the reason for this is Rueda Verdejo’s many forms of expression.

First is the entry-level light, citrusy, easy-to-drink style. After this is “sobre lias” or lees-aging – wine that has rested on the spent yeast cells to create more body and mouthfeel. The third style is both lees-rested and barrel fermented. The sobre lias and oak-aged styles are multi-layered and naturally pair well with more complex dishes. They take well to cellar aging too.

The newest official Rueda designation created by the region’s Denomination of Origin may also be the best. Gran Vino de Rueda refers to wines that come from vines at least 30 years old and require a lower harvest maximum yield to ensure grape concentration and in turn, wine intensity. With so many vines closing in on the 30-year mark, more wines will naturally be taking on this designation.  

But whether Gran Vino, entry level, or any other category of Rueda Verdejo, European countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, and of course Spain, have been hip to this wine for a long time. In North America, it’s just a matter of time before media, professionals, and consumers are resoundingly singing its praises too. What does Europe know that we’re just learning? 

For one, there are thousands of acres of vines at least 30 years old and older throughout Rueda. Many of these vines are low-to-the-ground bush vines and must be hand-harvested. The rest of the grapes are harvested at night to retain the grapes’ acidity and balance. This meticulous picking protocol results in fresh, varietally precise wines and underscores the region’s collective commitment to creating world-class wines. 

Tempranillo in the spotlight

Although long considered an “insider’s wine,” Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero has earned the attention of serious wine collectors and wine writers alike. Evidence of this is the 39-page Special Report written by respected wine writer, Tim Atkin, MW. In his comprehensive review, Atkin focused entirely on Ribera del Duero, scoring his top 100 wines from the region. These are wines he rated 94 or higher out of a total of 552 wines he tasted.

The characteristics Atkin found noteworthy in the wines he tasted were what he termed, “greater elegance, freshness, and balance.” It is why Tempranillo from this region, also called Tinta del Pais and Tinto Fino, is growing an audience in the United States and why wine reviewers are spending more time here. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising given that wine has been made here for over 2,000 years. But refined wines take time, and there’s abundant proof of that in the region now.

Atkin is not the only wine professional touching down in Ribera del Duero. Joaquín Hidalgo, a writer for the prestigious newsletter Vinous, dedicated serious column inches to the area in an October 2023 article, and Mike De Simone and Jeff Jennsen aka The World Wine Guys highlighted the renegade spirit that’s informing the “new” wines of Ribera del Duero in a downright exciting article for the Robb Report.Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Jancis Robinson have also dedicated quite a bit of ink to the region, and judging by their high praise, will presumably be returning to the region with some frequency.

A little Ribera del Duero history

So what’s all the fuss about? After all, they’ve been making wine in the region for 2,000 years, working within the context of blisteringly hot summers and bone-chilling winters, a short growing season, high altitude vineyards and the inherent challenge of growing grapes at 2,500 feet and higher for all that time. Growing grapes here is anything but easy, but the tenacity of winemakers throughout the ages and the second look the region got beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, has made Ribera del Duero one of the most revered wine regions in the world.  

The winery in Ribera del Duero that gave rise to the region as we know it today was the now-vaunted Vega Sicilia, which put roots down in the area in 1864. Although they initially planted Bordeaux varietals, they also incorporated the local Tempranillo into their blend. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Today, Vega Sicilia wines and three other brands owned by Tempos Vega Sicilia in Ribera del Duero are either exclusively Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) or Tinto Fino with Cabernet added. This latter blend is what comprises Vega Sicilia’s flagship wine Unico – the wine that turned the wine world’s eyes on this region in the first place and a pricey bottle that’s well worth the cost. These wines set the stage for other prized bottlings in the region, including Dominio de Pingus, Emilio Moro, Aalto, Protos, and many, many others.

Although these are highly praised and often valued wines, Ribera del Duero Tempranillos are also largely approachable, whether young or after some time in the cellar. Fortunately, the wine classifications for Ribera del Duero Tempranillo written on the back labels of all Denomination of Origin wines give us a hint of that – young (Crianza), older (Reserva), oldest (Gran Reserva), and a fourth category that follows DO regulations but is not age-specific (Cosecha). While a three-year aged Crianza might be slightly less complex than, say, a Gran Reserva, it still has depth, and it always has a sense of place. That is a given, for wine that is grown under such extreme conditions reflects the terroir more obviously than many other wines. The same is true for Rueda, which is also a high-altitude region.

Ribera del Duero Tempranillo is distinct from other Spanish Tempranillos in several ways. For one, the tough growing conditions together with the limestone and chalk soils translate to a consistent mineral backbone and structure. Other Tempranillos may also have these characteristics, but in Ribera del Duero, it’s a given.

Many Spanish Tempranillos sport dominant red fruits and softer tannins, while Tintos de País often showcase dark fruit flavors complemented by notes of licorice, leather, and earth. Their tannic structure, combined with the region’s characteristic minerality results in wines that are both powerful and elegant. The richness and texture in these wines provide depth and a lingering finish. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more layered and sophisticated wine even in its entry-level form.

Rueda Verdejo and Ribera del Duero Tempranillo are wines whose time is here. Consider this: in the period between 2020 and 2022, the combined regions experienced an unprecedented 19 percent sales increase in volume and 30 percent increase in value. Improved viticulture and winemaking combined with an innovative marketing program partly explain this. So too innovations in the bottle. It is why the wine writing and reviewing world is turning its focus on the regions. There’s energy and excitement in the approach to wine growing and winemaking, and the quality of wines from both regions is unprecedented. Rueda Verdejo, in particular, is a varietal whose rise among white varietals has catapulted in the last decade.

Ribera del Duero Tempranillos has been under the gaze of serious wine professionals and collectors for as much as a century, but there is now renewed vigor among the professionals and collectors who are clamoring to taste and acquire the wines. This excitement is reflected in the ever-growing number of these wines on wine lists and on retail shelves. So too, the media attention that is now being paid to the region.

Rueda Verdejo is all about discovery – its evolution, awareness, and distinction in the bottle. Ribera del Duero Tempranillo is proving to be a collector’s dream and the darling of wine enthusiasts. Indeed, there’s something happening on the Maseta. Ancient vines are meeting new, and a long tradition of winemaking is informing wine excellence now. New winemakers are setting up shop here and collectively helping to raise the bar on the regions’ wines. This infusion of energy and quality is now being broadcast by the wine media world. All we have to do is listen. 

SIGN UP TO LEARN ABOUT RIBERA Y RUEDA NEWS, DEALS, AND MORE.

WIN A TRIP TO SPAIN

Enter to win a trip for two to Ribera y Rueda, Spain’s most prestigious wine regions in 2025! Here’s your chance to experience the best bodegas (wineries), tour with winemakers and taste amazing wines while taking in historical sites. Stay in luxurious accommodations, partake in late lunches and tapas crawls.