Walk into an average bar in Spain and order a glass of red wine. The bartender will give two choices: “Rioja” or “Ribera.” Rioja is the longstanding, preeminent red wine producing region, famed internationally and increasingly producing a variety of styles, including fine whites, sparkling, and rose. Ribera, by contrast, is all red wine country and proudly so.
Ribera refers to DO Ribera del Duero, which has followed a remarkable trajectory towards quality, produces incredible wines, including the laudable vintages of Vega Sicilia, a winery that arguably blazed the trail others have followed. Both Rioja and Ribera del Duero (which refers to a 71-mile length of vineyards along the banks of the Duero River in northern Spain), focus on the Tempranillo grape. This is the flagship variety of Spain, now surpassing all others in terms of planted acreage. Notably, Ribera counts among the two most appreciated reds for daily drinking by the Spanish, and not, for example, Priorat reds, which are perhaps more famous internationally and have garnered the highest level denomination for quality (like Rioja) the Denominación de origen calificada (DOCa).
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Charlie Leary earned his PhD at Cornell University. He has served as a wine director for restaurants in New Orleans, southern France, Canada, Costa Rica and Panama since 1995. He is a certified Spanish Wine Specialist, Cava Educator and Expert and has studied wine through Washington State University, the Wine Scholar Guild, California Wine Institute, and the Rioja Academy.