Thu 07 Aug 2014

Ministering to the Interior: Eating My Greens In Ribera del Duero


How many of my fellow members suffer an auto-correct function with a mind of its own, I wonder?

TorremilanosNot content with Americanizing (sic) my colorful (sic) prose, mine has developed a sinister form of mission creep. For instance, when I typed a Castillian gem called Torremilanos into my laptop, I found myself insidiously relocated to a very similarly spelled Costa Brava location, synonymous in the Seventies with egg and chips, warm, flat bitter ale and other delights favoured by those of my compatriots for whom the sole purpose of a holiday abroad was a change of weather. Times have changed since a sense of adventure was displayed by drinking the water or eating something with garlic in it, but just in case, I am pitching my virtual tent this month at a safe distance from the costas.

You certainly couldn’t get much further inland than Ribera del Duero. Iberia’s third-longest river, the Duero, rises in the Picos de Urbión and snakes through Castile y Leon to become the mighty Douro as it crosses the Portuguese border. The name, which will immediately resonate with customers of Welsh Water (Dwr Cymru), is thought to be Celtic in derivation. On its way from Picos to Port, it takes in lovely spots like Segovia and Burgos and Spain’s ancient capital, Valladolid (which still retains the attitude, if not the official status, of Centre of the Hispanic Universe) before driving its way determinedly between Spain and Portugal, through strikingly beautiful canyons with deserved national park status.

The banks of the Duero are also home to some of Spain’s most collectible reds outside Rioja, notably a remarkable wine enterprise called Peñalba, a family business that has vertical integration down to a fine art, demonstrated by the combination of 198 hectares under vine, a portfolio of wonderfully diverse wines (from 140 different soil types!) and a gorgeous stone-built and beautifully appointed boutique hotel and a serious restaurant. This is Torremilanos (watch that spell-check!) just about an hour’s drive north of Madrid, and a handy weekend bolt-hole for city folk with a taste for good wine and food, as well as for this very fortunate employee of The Wine Society, on a fact-finder off the beaten track.

The aim of the three Peñalba-Lopéz brothers, Ricardo, Juan-Pablo and Vicente, is to challenge the traditional tough user-unfriendliness of DO Ribera del Duero with wines that are more approachable without losing the legendary pedigree of the region, which is, after all, also home to the abuelito of all Riberas, Bodegas Vega Sicilia. One senses that the mantra here, though, is that wine should thrill the senses without overtaxing patience.

It’s a sentiment amply expressed by the estate’s flagship white, Peñalba Blanco, which, this being red-only denominación, is merely (!) Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon. Just 6,000-odd bottles are produced, a blend of 40% white tempranillo, 40% sauvignon blanc and 10% each viognier and chardonnay, all fermented in barrel and kept there for about nine months, until assemblage and bottling. This is like a white Burgundy in style, stylish and richly oaked and perfect with a plate of sizzling scallops.

Ribera del DueroThe essence of Ribera, though, is its tempranillo, from juicy and appealing young-vine Vinlara to Colección, a 100% tempranillo from vines averaging 60 years of age, enriched by a 30-month stint in oak. Again, this is a limited edition, with only about 6,500 bottles made, and an excellent cellaring prospect. It’s not all tempranillo, though. Dashes of merlot and cabernet sauvignon may be found in a number of the many premium cuvees produced by the estate. What they all have in common is real Ribera classicism here, overlaid with irresistible charm.

Moving to the restaurant, this place is famous for its cheese croquetas and they were indeed, fluffy, perfectly seasoned, moreish and improbably light despite what must surely constitute an horrific deposit in the calorie bank. Little lamb chuletitas reminded us that Ribera is prime sheep country too. The star turn for me, though, was a platter of grilled vegetables, including green asparagus, rather than the more usual white variety, soft, sweet, slightly charred onions and strips of green pepper, which always seems to me to get a bad press. Less sweet, as well as visually exciting than their red or yellow counterparts they can certainly be tricky and metallic and that sensation often crops up in less-than-flattering wine tasting notes. Roasting or grilling does much to temper their undoubted bitterness, but the best antidote, tried at Ricardo’s insistence, was to roll the strip of pepper around a chunk of morcilla. These blood puddings abound throughout Spain but here, they are made with rice, cumin, cinnamon and cloves. The sweetness of the morcilla combined with the acidity of the green pepper was nothing short of a revelation and a perfect match with the young tempranillo.

It was at this point that I noticed that one of my companions on this trip was ignoring the lamb and greenery and tucking into a plate of huevos y patatas fritas, with a side order of morcilla. Eggs, chips and black pudding? Where is that auto-correct when you need it!

Janet Wynne Evans

Peñalba Lopéz Blanco 2011 (£12.95) can be found in The Society’s August Fine Wine List.
Our Wine Without Fuss subscribers will already be familiar with Vinlara 2012 while a small and precious allocation of Colección 2009 is presently slumbering in our archives for future offering. Watch this space!

Categories : Spain


  1. david pullen 50775 says:

    Hi-as I spend half the year in Benalmadena near torremolinos (costa del sol) I was most interested in this article as I may drive there when in Spain. More info would be gratefully received. I would be travelling from Malaga.

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