Let’s pop back over to Spain for a moment, Rioja is not the only game in town when it comes to the fruitful production of grapey goodness. Just a bit south of Rioja flows the Duero River, along which you can find a couple of Spain’s most well-known wine regions.
Moving west to east, we start in Rueda, which is the region centered on the town of the same name, which is about 170 miles northwest of Madrid. Wine was produced here since at least the 11th century. Rueda is best known for white wines, particularly those produced from the Verdejo grape, which is native to the region. Some reds are produced in Rueda, but less than 5% of the total harvest yield is red grapes.
Rueda whites are produced to be drunk relatively young, and are known to be quite food-friendly. Many wine lovers liken Rueda wines to sauvignon blanc, and that comparison certainly held up for the Torres 2015 “Verdeo” Verdejo which I had the opportunity to try.
The Verdeo (and I’m unsure why the spelling is different) was a crisp, acidic quaff with aromas of pear and lemon that were mirrored on the palate. I found it to be a little richer than many sauvignon blanc, effecting a little bit of a glycerine sweetness on the palate and on the finish. It was pretty good as an aperitif, and I had the wild hair to try it with a pork and fennel Thai curry. It handled the pairing OK because of the slight sweetness at the end, but beer worked better, honestly. I think it would be a better match for fish or shellfish.
Eighty or so miles down the Duero lies Ribera del Duero – the Spanish wine region which competes with and complements its neighbor to the northeast, Rioja, in the manner that Bordeaux and Burgundy eye each other. In this case, however, both of the Spanish regions focus on the same red grape, Tempranillo. The converse of Rueda, Ribera del Duero’s grape production is almost exclusively red. The nomenclature of the red wines – “Crianza,” “Reserva,” and “Gran Reserva” mirrors that found in Rioja.
Ribera del Duero, which translates as “the banks of the Duero” is a very dry, hot region in the summer – receiving less than a foot and a half of rain annually. Also located on a high plateau, temperatures soar in the summer and can be brutally cold in the winter, so the vines must be quite hardy. Since they must struggle, the wines take on some very interesting characteristics, especially when compared to Rioja. Of late, production has increased in Ribera del Duero as the world discovers the differences.
The sample of Torres 2013 “Celeste” Ribera del Duero Crianza provided an interesting contrast. The nose was fragrantly full of cherries and violet. I thought that the flavors of the RdD were deeper than the bright cherry flavors found in the Rioja Crianza that I tried. The mouthfeel was considerably chewier with some more pronounced oak flavors. There were dark fruits – blackberry and plum – on the palate, which finished up with some chewy, plummy tannins. I thought this was a pretty serious red, but not so big as to be overwhelming. It calls for grilled or roasted meats, especially beef. A NY strip was a lovely accompaniment.
If you find the Duero-based wines interesting, there are a number of other wine regions along this plateau. Wines from Arribes, Arlanza, Cigales (especially for rosé), and Toro would provide you with some interesting contrasts.