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Finding a sense of place in Ribera del Duero

Friday - 4/20/2012, 11:54am  ET

Scott Greenberg, special to

WASHINGTON - Over the last decade or so, many critics have alluded to a trend in the wine world where wines are produced to a standard referred to as an "international" style.

This trend results in a noticeable homogenization of many red wines that, regardless of country of origin or varietal, taste the same.

Winemakers appear to be focusing on producing wines with clean, fruit-forward flavors and finishes that are big, bold and one-dimensional. While the movement towards this style has definitely helped to improve the quality of wines, it apparently has come at the expense of removing a sense of place and time that the soul of a wine can - and should - convey.

At a recent tasting of Spanish wines from the region of Ribera del Duero, I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the wines actually tasted "of a place."

Located in Gumiel de Mercado, a small village in the western region of Ribera del Duero, is the Arrocal winery. Just ten years old, Arrocal has already grabbed the attention of consumers and critics alike. The 2009 Arrocal Finca la Mata spends just about 18 months in oak barrels and has a pronounced dark fruit characteristic on both the nose and in the mouth, including blackberry, black raspberry and Rum cherry notes.

The lengthy finish leaves both a charming and rustic impression that features a touch of saddle leather and earthiness. $19

Tempranillo flourishes in Ribera del Duero, where it is also known as Tinto Fino or Tinta del Pais. It takes on a particularly brooding characteristic in the 2007 Bodegas Cepa 21. Made exclusively from tinto fino, the red cherry and floral violet nose leads to a very well-balanced palate featuring flavors of black cherry, dark plum and black currants.

The fourteen month aging in French and American oak barrel contributes to the structured finish where notes of vanilla and toasty oak linger. $25

Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier produces three distinct wines, including the 2005 Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier Spiga, whose Tempranillo fruit is harvested from vineyards located at 2,600 feet. It is aged approximately 12 months in both new and used oak barrels and features charming flavors of red plum, dark strawberry and pomegranate that glide across the tongue on a mellow chassis and leads to a soft, laid-back finish. $24

Bridging the gap between traditional and new-world is the mother-son team of Bodega Martín Berdugo, located in the Aranda de Duero region. Even the label on the 2006 Bodega Martín Berdugo MB is a homage to new (top half) and old (bottom half). The tempranillo features both ripe flavors of big red fruit and subtle earthy tones on the beautifully structured palate.

Additional notes of leather and tobacco combine on the long and elegant finish, supported by sweet, ripe tannins. $30

Eduardo Garcia, the son of legendary winemaker Mariano Garcia (Bodegas Mauro), is reaching for the stars at Bodega Los Astrales, where his 2009 Astrales, made from organically farmed Tinta Fina, displays an expressive nose of black fruit, roasted coffee and red floral notes.

Flavors of dark cherry, black plum and smoky oak are supported by soft tannins that provides round mouthfeel and lets the notes of mineral and vanilla shine through on the silky finish. $65

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