The Rivalry between Rioja and Ribera del Duero


In Spain, the two main classic wine regions are Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Over the years, a friendly rivalry has developed between these two years. Often, the two regions are compared against each other. In this post, i will try to shed some light between the differences between these two giants.

Rioja became the first Spanish wine region to get doc status in 1925. In 1991, they received the most prestigious Denominación de origen Calificada (DOCa) which is very similar to what the italians call DOCG. In contrast, Ribera del Duero 1982 (It was called then Ribera de Burgos). In legal terms, Rioja is older than Ribera del Duero. Ribera does not posses the DOCa but many experts suggest that they should grant them, since it exist an historical quality precedent.

The geographical area of the DOC Rioja comprises the municipalities of Rioja and the basque country, with some areas of production in Navarra. The principal production areas are Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Alavesa. Naturally, the terroir and climate is taken into consideration to define the boundaries of each area.

The  D.O. Ribera del Duero is located on the southeast part of Castilla and León, particularly in the provinces of Burgos, Segovia, Valladolid and Soria. The most important cities in this D.O are Aranda de Duero, Peñafiel, Roa and San Esteban de Gormaz.

It is important to mention soil and climate, since it will determine how the wine taste alike

Rioja Alta has clay and chalky soils with a moderate continental climate. Rioja Baja is drier with a semi mediterranean climate and the soils are again clay type but with a rich mineral character that recalls iron. Rioja Alavesa has moderate winter temperatures with low incidence of frosts  and a landscape consisting of an abrupt orography and chalky soils. To resume, the soft temperaturates of Rioja permit a slow ripening of the grapes.

On the other hand, Ribera del duero has a climate characterized by low rainfall and extreme temperatures that combine the cold winds of the winter with the dryness of the summer season. As a consequence, the ripening of the berries will be less, making highly aromatic and concentrated wines but at the expense of finesse.

The D.O. Ribera has very diverse soils. In the part with the highest altitude, there is a mixture of limestone and chalk. In the mid-slopes sand and clay. In the lowest part just limestone.

In Rioja with regards to the grapes authorized , there are four red authorized:(Tempranillo, Garnacha tinta, Mazuelo and Graciano) and three white varietied (Viura, Malvasía and Garnacha blanca). However Tempranillo is king on those parts.

On the other hand in Ribera del Duero,Tempranillo, Cabernet, Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec are authorized,Garnacha and Albillo as well but in small quantities. Like in Rioja, the most important variety is Tempranillo.

Rioja has white, red and rose wines while Ribera del Duero only make red and roses. Rueda does not count, although it is considered by some as a satelite of Ribera del Duero.

In both DOC’s, traditionally wines have been classified according to their aging requirements: jóvenes (no aging in wood), crianza (minimum 2 years aging, one of them in wood), reserva (minimum 3 years aging, 2 in wood and 1 in bottle).Gran reserva (minimum five years, 2 in wood and 3 in bottle).

My Rioja wine picks of the moment:

Sierra Cantabria Crianza 2009. Code SAQ:  00741330. $22.10

On the nose ripe aromas of plums, prunes and red and black fieldberries. In addition, lots of spice character remind me of middle eastern cuisine. Also, licorice and present notes of oak. However, not dominating the nose of the wine. In the mouth, full body with a very polished texture. Long and smooth in the palate with flavors reminding me of mocha, blackberries covered in chocolate. Lush but with a impressive acidity. Powerful and concentrated bringing to mind  high end bottling of Rioja such as El Bosque. Keep this crianza on the cellar for 5 years. It still needs a bit of time to come to perfection. 92\100

Vina Gravonia Rioja Crianza 2004 – white wine-Code SAQ: 11667927: $30.25

Golden colour with amber nuances, aromas of butterscotch pudding with coconut, bitter orange and dry fruit notes. In the mouth, medium to full body with a grea acidity despite 10 years and great retronasal flavors. Again that intrepid bitter orange with some minerality. Also very perfumed, reminding me of toast and the Boudoir of my grandmother. Very long with an intriguing finale reminding me of popcorn. 95/100

Glorioso Reserva 2008. Code SAQ:  00857599$25.40. ( The link is for the reserva especial 2007)

Light to medium ruby colour. Ripe concentrated red fruit nose with leathery nuances. Nice oak integration with raspberry dark chocolate. Sweaty with hints of nail polish. In the mouth, full body, fresh and nicely concentrated. Well balanced. Chewy in the mouth with more animal nuances and ripe raspberry and cherry candy notes. Long in the mouth with a rather long aftertaste. 92\100

My Ribera del Duero picks of the moment too:

Rolland Galarreta Ribera del Duero 2010. Price:$26.70. Saq Code: 12258391

Beautiful concentration of dark blackberries, damson plums with a flowery and spicy character. In the mouth, full body with a smooth-silky profile. Medium to high acidity. Concentrated with lots of dry fruit extract. Precise and well made wine. Massive and chewy tannins. 92\100

Tinto Pesquera Ribera del Duero. $43.50. Saq Code: 10273088.

Very aromatic nose displaying black fruit paste, moka and dark chocolate notes. In addition, notes of seasoned wood. In the mouth, full body. Highly structured with firm and austere tannins. Complex flavors come to mind ranging to ripe black fruits, graphite, tanned leather to indian spices. Very long finish. 94/100.

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