Before he earned his Master Sommelier and Master of Wine titles, Doug Frost didn’t get to travel to any of Europe’s great vineyards. “I had limited funds and two small children back in those days,” he says. He discovered Vega Sicilia stateside in the late 1970s and soon started watching Ribera del Duero more closely, inspired by meeting Alejandro Fernández, who had established Pesquera a decade earlier, when many of the other producers in the region were pulling out vines and planting beets. Since then, Frost has returned to Spain often, impressed by how today’s Ribera del Duero wines “combine nearly New World richness with Old World structure.” He presents these six wines as defining examples of contemporary Ribera style.
1. Aalto Ribera del Duero PS
“I know that not everyone agrees on this—particularly Alejandro Fernández, but I think the old vines contribute greatly to the balance and consistency from any vineyard.” This wine, made from vines ranging from 80 to 100 years old, is a case in point: “PS is a stunning Ribera, depicting the region as a powerful, intense and long-lived wine.” Founded by Javier Zaccagnini and Mariano García in 1999, “Aalto is one of the world’s great estates,” Frost believes.
2. Vega Sicilia Ribera del Duero Valbuena 5
The prices of Vega Sicilia’s flagship wine, Unico, reflect its standing; Frost finds that the more accessible Valbuena gives a terrific feel for both the winery and the region. “Elegance to the point of aloofness is not unusual in these wines,” he says. Made mostly of tinto fino from younger vines, he describes it as “rich with plums and black cherries—but there is a lot yet to be revealed here.”
3. Dominio de Atauta Ribera del Duero La Mala
“La Mala means ‘the bad woman,’ and this wine is definitely an ornery character—its sheer power demands attention,” says Frost. Often, he finds a direct correlation between altitude and personality in Ribera del Duero. This tinto fino comes from Atauta, which, at some 3,200 feet in altitude, is one of the highest sites in the region. “I certainly find La Mala to offer a higher toned aromatic profile, as well as greater freshness as a result,” he says.
4. Astrales Ribera del Duero Christina
“Astrales represents a very modern version of Ribera del Duero,” says Frost. It’s run by Alberto and Eduardo García, sons of Mariano García, winemaker at Vega Sicilia from 1968 to 1998. Christina, from 90-year-old vines, is particularly intense, “a lovely and layered wine with flavors of blackberries, licorice, crushed herbs and stony minerality, both elegant and powerful.”
5. Hacienda Monasterio Ribera del Duero Reserva
“This winery’s wines have improved radically in the last five or ten years,” says Frost, citing the 2011 as an example: “Scented with roses and red fruit, this wine gains weight and volume in the mouth, sliding between red and black fruits with a tasty dose of blueberries and baking spices.” Peter Sisseck and Carlos de la Fuente organically farm 193 acres of vines on chalky soils, mostly
tinto fino; merlot, malbec and cabernet sauvignon account for 20 percent of the blend.
6. Pesquera Ribera del Duero Reserva
“This has an old-school aura that adds to its soulfulness,” says Frost. Grown on the gravelly banks of the Duero, this spends two years in a mix of American, French and Spanish oak. “There is more depth than brightness in this wine, and less overt fruit than earth,” Frost says, pointing out those tertiary notes are a hallmark of Pesquera’s wines, showing even when the wine is young.
This article first appeared in W&S Fall 2016.