As a grape in itself, Tempranillo is unimpeachably one of the world’s great red cultivars, and at least in theory, one of my favorites as well…in theory. Fortunately for some, but most unfortunately for my palate, the Spaniards typically are not shy to say the least when it comes to oaking their wines: lots of time spent in new wood, and very often the more powerful and obvious American oak rather than the more subtle and complex French-grown lumber. And though Tempranillo does take exceedingly well to barrel aging, there’s always a breaking point, and too many Spanish producers, especially in the more “prestigious” appellations, pass it and keep on running, obscuring the grape and the terroir with a distracting infusion of toasted marshmallow and coconut oak flavors.
What an aversion to heavy oaking relegates you to in Spain unfortunately are either wines labelled “joven” (“young”), and the increasingly prevalent bottles marked “roble” (“oak”). The former are usually simple, fruity guzzling wines meant to be drunk yesterday, and though the latter wines see less wood than a even crianza, much less reserva wines, I still find many of them too oaky for my tastes. So when I spotted this Ribera del Duero with just 8 months aging in French oak barrels, I had to give it a try…
Ribera del Duero is situated geographically somewhat southwest of the very famous region of Rioja, but this region is further from the sea, and sits between 2,200-2,700 feet above sea level, so that means its climate is less sweet than Rioja’s, with hotter days, colder nights, and an overall shorter growing season. These factors of weather and the nature of the soil make for deeper, darker, denser, wines that are made exclusively from Tinto Fino (Rioja is always a blend)which is the name for the local sub-type of Tempranillo.
So how did it come out? Pretty darn well, I’d have to say. Initially there was a bit of sweet vanilla wafting out of the glass that had me a bit worried, but things levelled off nicely, but more about all that in the notes…
A wine such as this needs BIG, Iberian(ish) winter fare, so I had to oblige with a brown lentil, pimenton, and jamon et al. soup, and then grilled shell steaks topped with sauteed mushrooms and onions, with a side of roasted potatoes.
Cepa 21 Ribera del Duero “Hito” 2009
Deep, crimson/purple color. Broad and complex nose of mulberry and blackberry, brown butter, motor oil, asian spices, fine salami, and woodsy aromas. The wine has a medium full weight, an expansive, smooth texture, and dry, peppery tannins with layered flavors of black cherry, chunky strawberry preserves, sweet spices, sour plum, seashells, toasted wafer, and a touch of bittersweet chocolate, all nicely tied up with a tart acidity. Slightly malty, black licorice finish.