When it comes to discussion of the most delicious wines of Spain, Ribero del Duero is not a region that is commonly cited.

Of the principal regions making top class wines, which include red, white and rosado, it is Rioja which occupies more airtime than all the rest put together. With our post Seventies colonisation of great chunks of the Iberian peninsula, it remains something of a mystery that the wines of Ribero, Priorato, Navarre, Jumilla and Valdepenas do not figure more regularly on our red spectrum and that Galicia and Rueda, tend to crop up on precious few white wine lists.

Spain presently boasts in excess of fifteen DO’s (Denominación de Origen) which, for all intents and purposes, is the equivalent of the French AC system (Appellation Contrôlée). Both are utilised to offer a guarantee of authenticity to potential customers as well as a benchmark for producers in order to protect their authenticity on the one hand, and prevent opportunistic imitation on the other. So how come France can boast an equable showing of most of its wines, be it in the multiples, the off-license outlets or restaurants in general, yet Spain so often appears as a one trick pony?

Ribero del Duero sits near the centre of Spain, equidistant from Madrid in the south, and the port of Bilbao in the north. The region straddles the River Duero, which snakes its way westwards through across the Iberian peninsula into the Atlantic, passing the many Port wineries on its lengthy journey. By comparison with the centuries-old Port lodges, the wines of Ribero del Duero are relatively new on the world stage. That has not, however, restricted their rapid rise to stardom. The quintessential expression of Spanish red wine, unlike any other European style, is based upon Spain’s indigenous noble grape variety – Tempranillo. In the many wines of Ribero, Tempranillo is often used exclusively. This cannot be said of most Riojas, which are more likely to be blended with varying amounts of Garnacha. (originally the French variety Grenache – the core of the mighty southern Rhône wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas).

It will come as no surprise to its many fans that the Tempranillo grape thrives in this barren medieval landscape often in vineyards nearly two and a half thousand feet above sea level. It is this altitude, which offers searing heat during the day yet is conveniently relieved by cooling breezes at night. I was over there in 2008 visiting the vineyards of Ribero’s cult winery, Bodegas Pesquera, during the last few days of September. Although the daytime was unbearably hot, with lizards darting across the parched terracotta earth and vultures swirling on rising thermals above our heads – more reminiscent of Spaghetti Westerns than vineyards – the nights plummeted to a perishing chill as soon as the sun dropped behind the hills. It is this dramatic contrast, which offers an almost perfect micro-climate usefully extending the ripening season with harvests well into October and often through November, with Spain often picking their grapes four to six weeks behind most of France.

The ripe red bunches offer a tell-tale shape, often compared with a soldiers mess jacket displaying wide lapels in profile. My own comment that the bunch looked rather heart shaped was met with macho derision by my host, who carried on with his military analogy. However the point stuck and one could later identify vines along the hillsides, even from a speeding car window. Within Ribero’s locality, the grape is often referred to as Tinto Fino (fine, dark one) which gives some hint to the flavours found in pure Tempranillo that were to prove so memorable. The variety has a great deal in common with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape of Bordeaux, in that the very young wines are barely drinkable with high acidity and overpowering tannins, and it is this early, toe curling sensation that young tannins display which inevitably mask a lot of the rich flavours in the first stages of the wine’s development. It is the unique Tempranillo fruit, which tends to lay in wait ready to excite in the years to come as the early austerity of the tannins soften to a warming, mouth coating delight. But the wine is no lightweight. Often with a little less alcohol than its French cousin, the reds of Ribero del Duero still express deep, powerful fruit flavours often with a telltale lick of Morello cherry on the finish. This red berry nuance is coupled with a silky texture after part maturation in both South American and the slightly sweeter French oak barrels. For me the overriding sensation though, are the wine’s food friendly, warming, rustic style. If Burgundy were an oil painting by Poussin, then Ribero must surely be a Constable landscape. This analogy would neatly forewarn your senses if you get to travel through this wonderful region, because if Tempranillo offers the soul of Spain then the landscape here could so easily offer its pastoral heart.

With the present 2009 Vintage formerly declared excelente for only the fourth time in 27 years, it would be more than prudent to lay a bottle or two down for a few years, just to taste the region’s grape variety at its very best.