Thursday, June 19, 2008

Spain Part III: Old Cellars and New Barriques at Valduero (Ribera del Duero)

Ribera del Duero has unfortunately become all but a lost cause for lovers of authenticity, typicity, and a sense of regionally specific flavors in Spanish wines. As I understand it, not only did Ribera del Duero become the first Spanish region to gain a boost from critics in the infancy of Spain's export boom in the 1980's, but the region was also a key reason why so many people 150 miles away in Rioja began to reconsider how they made their wine, emphasizing ripeness and new French barriques over subtlety and the more traditional American oak. Show me a current release of Ribera del Duero, and I will more than likely point to ripe blackberry flavors, sweet vanilla and/or coffee flavors derived from new french oak, and an overriding sense of anonymity. Vega Sicilia, which I have still yet to taste, would be a notable exception, from what I hear. It is the wine that put Ribera del Duero on the map and, according to anyone fortunate enough to have tasted it, amongst the finest in the world. Alejandro Fernandez's wines have also proven to have plenty of character and repeatedly show characteristics specific to his wines. Not bad for a company that produces 500,000 cases of wine, but that's another post for another day. This post is supposed to be about Bodegas Valduero.

Located in Gumiel del7 Mercado (just 10km outside of Arranda del Duero) and due to my lack of familiarity with Castilla y Leon, a real tough one to find, Bodegas Valduero has been producing wine since 1984. Yolanda Garcia Viadero, the original owner along with her winemaker husband (he makes wine in Rioja), still makes the wine here. They make a rosado, crianza, reserva, a separate reserva aged for 6 years, and gran reserva. Though I wouldn't describe these wines as traditional, there seems to still be a liveliness to the acidity, a nuance of oak flavor that comes from aging in a combination of French, American, and eastern european oak, which separates these wines from most of the pack in Ribera del Duero. We tasted the following:

2007 Valduero Sobresaliehnte '9 degrees'
Cool wine, here! Produced from the rare white Albarillo grape, this was conceived as a wine to be marketed as low in alcohol, low in calories (less than an apple, according to the back label) and perfect for lunchtime drinking. I am not sure that I agree with the low calorie marketing approach, but I do think the low alcohol one makes sense in today's world of big, bad, high alcohol wines. Most importantly, this wine works. There is a muscat like orange blossom and grapeyness here, with fresh acidity and terrific balance. It reminds me of an unoaked white from Penedes. Tasty.

2006 La Uve Toro Joven
"Uh-oh," I thought, I need to taste a wine from one of my least favorite regions in Spain, a region whose wines are pumped up with ridiculous amounts of new french oak, and somehow not say that it sucks in front of my gracious host. Valduero started producing wines in Toro in 1998. Thankfully, they have a different approach to this wine, one which highlights the natural fruitiness of tempranillo that grows in this warmer, drier region. Deep cherry and dark fruit flavors maintain their freshness with decent acidity, and a mouthfeel that it is not at all overly heavy or thick.

2005 Arbucala Toro

Valduero toasts their own barrels, and in this case the toasting seems to be quite thorough. A big, chewy, dark fruited, simple wine. Sure it's a young wine, but I don't see it ever becoming something I would want to drink. I tried to drink a bottle over the course of a few days in Priorat and Barcelona, and just couldn't do it. Though each time the nose of the wine did transport me to the barrel room of any modern red wine producer in Napa, Bordeaux, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, take your pick...

2005 Valduero Crianza

Black cherries and an overall drier, less sweet smell than the Toro leads to a big palate of chewy dark fruit. Young and teetering on the edge of too ripe/oaky for my tastes, but somehow I hold out more hope for this wine than the above.

2004 Valduero Reserva

Very intense, classic Ribera dark fruits, but with Tempranillo's acidity displaying itself, and the cut of the 2004 vintage as well.

2001 Valduero Premium Reserva '6 años'

Aged for 36 months 'en barrica' and another three years in bottle (hence the '6 años' label), this could technically be called a gran reserva. The use of oak aging in this wine, however extensive, does not at all overpower the incredibly intense fruit. One to cellar for a while, at least for 5 years and ideally longer.

1991 Valduero Gran Reserva

It was cool to see how these wines age. The reserva and gran reserva wines are amongst Valduero's most traditional, and they age in the 17th century underground cellar as opposed to their new hilllside facility. The wine was elegant but firm, with some good years ahead of it. Very developed on the nose, with mocha and roasted meat, amongst other aromas I did not catch (we needed to hurry a bit to finish the tour). It was much more primary and fruity than I would have imagined, with suave, but present, tannins. I imagine it would have changed significantly in the glass over time if we were to have a few hours with the wine.

Along with the wines we were served some local specialties: a delcious manchego from Yolanda's brother's farm, murcilla (blood sausage with prominent cumin seasoning and in this Burgos version, short grained rice), lechazo (suckling lamb, sort of the veal of the lamb world) and even a delicious salad (tough to come by in many parts of Spain, where salad is often chopped iceberg lettuce topped with a square of tuna).

Thank you Roger for your hospitality and patience with my poor directional sense!

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