Tempranillos of Northern Spain

A tasting by the group Entrecanales Domecq e Hijos, owners of both Bodegas Cosme Palacio in Rioja, and Bodegas Viña Mayor of nearby Ribera del Duero. The theme was the Tempranillo grape variety, the common link between both regions in the northwest of Spain. Ribera del Duero winemaker Almudena Alberca MW began by explaining the differences she sees between the regions.

Culture was the first aspect highlighted, formed largely by the physical separation of the two regions where high mountain ranges and wide rivers divided the countryside. Because of these, distinct regional cultures have developed in these separated areas.

Rioja sits on the River Ebro, Ribera on the river Duero, and while Rioja’s vineyards rise to 600 metres at its highest elevations, Ribera del Duero is significantly higher with an average altitude of 850m-900m for its vineyards. Ribera del Duero also sees a little more Atlantic influence.

In terms of soils, again their are differences: Rioja has limestone and clay, while Ribera del Duero has sandy silt and clay – though there are some limestone and stony river deposits. Almudena says the limestone helps give ageing potential and good acidity. Finally, the clones of Tempranillo are different in each region.

She picks out Rioja Alavesa in particular. along with Ribera del Duero, as two of Spain’s best Tempranillo terroirs, though she notes bigger vintage variations in Ribera del Duero because of a more extreme climate. The wines of Cosme Palacio were presented by its winemaker, Roberto Rodriguez.  Vineyards sit in Alavesa, very close to the Sierra Cantabria mountains, while Viña Mayor is located in the ‘Golden Mile’ of Ribera del Duero, the most prestigious area with neighbours like Vega Sicilia and Pingus.

The Wines

(2022) Three months in French and American oak barrels for this Roble young wine. Deep, intense and plummy fruit, a twist of liquorice and some meatiness here, a darker-hued interpretation of Tempranillo. There's a dark, vinous quality to this, plummy, dark and firm fruit and tannins. There is good juiciness though, and spices, with a more extracted feel and firmer tannins than the Glorioiso Rioja for example.
(2022) Selected, hand-harvested Tempranillo is aged mainly in 300-litre French oak, with a small percentage of high quality American oak, medium toast. It spends at least 12 months in barrel. Plenty of vanilla and red fruit on the nose, strawbery-soft with some juicy bramble character too. In the mouth medium bodied, some clove-like, spicy oak adds seasoning to the red fruit. Smooth and well balanced, and drinks well.
(2022) From vines with more than 60 years of age, planted at more than 900 metres altitude. It was aged in French (70%) and American oak of various barrel sizes for 15 months, around 50% new oak. That was followed by more than 20 months ageing in bottle. Lots of spice and a plum and cherry compote nose, a hint of leather or game. The palate has more concentration and flesh than the Crianza perhaps, the spiciness and tobacco of the oak balanced by fresh fruit, tannins very silky and a balanced finish.
(2022) A difficult harvest in Rioja, but the winery is very proud of the wines they produced in this vintage. Certainly this Crianza has a lot of love shown to it, a selection of the best fruit from high altitude vineyards, and ageing in new French oak barrels. It has an open and attractive nose, the toast and cedar of the oak evident, perhaps a slight weakness of the vintage showing through on the palate despite some very smooth and creamy tannins and acids giving it a supple character.
(2022) 100% Tempranillo, hand-harvested fruit from old vines went through two selection phases before fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Transferred to French oak barriques, the wine spent 20 months maturing before a further 18 months in bottle prior to release. Vibrant crimson in colour still, the nose is very appealing, deeply-fruited and dark, but layered with graphite and cedar, a little creamy vanilla too. There is a gentle gaminess, then onto the palate loads of crushed berry fruit, highlights of raspberry over deeper blackcurrant. The oak adds lovely polish, underpinned by a hint of earthiness and very fine, chocolate-dense tannins. With pert acids running through the finish, it is long and very stylish.
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