Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Tale of Two Wine Regions II - Languedoc & Ribera del Duero

Reading this article how Spain lost their 'Rioja' name battle with Argentina reminded me that I had failed to post on a trade tasting of Ribera del Duero wines. I guess them being neighboring Spanish Denominación de Origen (DO) sharing Tempranillo as the major grape tickled the brain.

In any case, the Drink Ribera tasting was on the same day as this same day as the 2011 Les AOC du Languedoc Ambassador Tour, so we had to split our time between the two. According to its wiki page, "Ribera del Duero is located in the country's northern plateau and is one of eleven 'quality wine' regions within the autonomous community of Castile and León. It is also one of several recognized wine-producing regions to be found along the course of the Duero river. Ribera del Duero is home to the world-famous and highly-prized Vega Sicilia and Tinto Pesquera wines and is dedicated almost entirely to the production of red wine from the Tempranillo grape."

We learned this information plus much more during a short seminar in the region. For instance, the grapes benefit from Diurnal temperature variation which produces "high acid and high sugar content as the grapes' exposure to sunlight increases the ripening qualities. Then the sudden drop in temperature at night preserves the balance of natural acids in the grape". Also, grapes have been harvested in the region for over 2,000 years and like France, the area was devastated by the Phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800s. Finally, red grapes are the norm with Albillo, the only white variety grown.

Yet the most enlightening part of this seminar was the chance to sample two Vega Sicilia wines, perhaps Spain's most notable winery. These were the Cosecha 2000 "Unico" and the Tinto Valbuena 5° Cosecha 2006. What an opportunity. The Unico is only produced in choice years and then released after a minimum of ten years aging - in this case twelve years. The Valbuena brand is crafted during non-Unico years after 5 years' aging. This explains the "5°" part of the name. These are serious wines at serious prices. And way out of my league in terms of coinage and sophistication. Theses wines are full bodied monsters, but simultaneously elegant and refined: soft tannins and balanced acidity. Savored each glass for quite a while - it may have been my last chance in quite a while.

There were dozens of other Ribera wines to sample and after the previous trade tasting, we were in no mood to receive the drunken attendee award. Those we stuck to a couple tables. What a complete difference from the Languedoc from earlier. Not too say either were better; just completely different. The Ribera were more full bodied with bigger tannins; the Languedoc softer in both tannins and body. Love them both. And besides the Vega Sicilia most of the Ribera del Dueros are very affordable. That's a characteristic that both wine regions share.
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