Bishop’s Cellar Adventures in Spain’s Ribera Del Duero Wine Region

I can’t remember enjoying a work day as much as I did a few weeks ago with my colleagues Jason, Jevan and Caroline in Northern Spain.

We arrived in Ribera Del Duero late in the morning on a cold and windy spring day.  I have always appreciated the wines from this region; I’ve always found them to possess aperfect balance of intensity and finesse and I was thrilled to finally be visiting the area for the first time. We were accompanied throughout Northern Spain by our generous tour guide and wine supplier, Javier Delgado.

Despite a wine-making tradition that spans more than 2000years, we learned that the wines of Ribera del Duero are currently in the midst of a renaissance of sorts.  Located an hour and a half north of Madrid, the pristine DO Ribera Del Duero stretches just over 100 km from east to west.  The hot, sun drenched days and cool, brisk nights give the grapes grown here both freshness and acidity.  A combination of the extreme climate and complex soils, consisting of clay, silt and limestone, offer a perfect growing habitat for Spain’s most celebrated grape: Tempranillo or Tinto Fino, as it is called locally.

Bodega San Pedro Regalado

Our first visit of the day was to a local co-operative, Bodega San Pedro Regalado, in the town of La Aguilera. This is where we met Cesar Mate, who must have one of the best wine-making positions in all of Spain.  As part of the co-op, Cesar is the winemaker of Embocadero; a wine our staff has proudly sold numerous vintages of over the years at Bishop’s Cellar.  In the car on the way there, Javier gave us a crash course in the modern history of wine-making in this area.  Turns out, these co-ops sprung up in the late 20th century helping the region to begin making consistent, serious wines- a far cry from the plonk that generations before had been swilling.

No sooner had we arrived at the co-op, Cesar had us crammed into his jeep bouncing through the sandy vineyards that contained 100-year-old Tinto Fino vines used in the making of Embocadero;  imagine, grapes grown on vines this old goes into the production of a wine that costs just $18 and is deliciously fruit driven!

After a few quick photos amongst the vines, we hoppedback in the jeep to visit Cesar’s newest venture: Bodegas Marta Mate.  Cesar is also the winemaker here.  Although the actual winery wasn’t built until 2013, Cesar and his partners have been making world-class wines that have garnered huge scores from critics since 2008.  After a quick look at their rain-soaked biodynamic vineyards, we sampled the latest vintages of their small portfolio- including Primordium, that recently sold out at this year’s Rare and Fine Wine Show. Each wine had incredible balance with an uplifting minerality.

Historic Aranda Del Duero

Smack dab in the middle of this region you will find the historic city of Aranda Del Duero. Here, we sat down for a traditional and leisurely lunch of Lechazo Asado (roasted suckling lamb) and baked cod with our hosts Javier, Cesar and Manuel.  To accompany the lunch we continued to sample Marta Mate’s wines along with another Cesar project; Bodegas la Magdalena.  Look for “La Duna” from this Bodegas on our shelves this summer.  For now though, there’s still lots of Embocadero to tide us over!

Aranda Del Duero is noted for its labyrinth of cellars and tunnels that were carved underneath the city’s buildings and streets between the 12th and 17th centuries,used to store food and wine for the residents.  For centuries the people of the area would carry sheep skins filled with wine down dark winding stairways, sometimes as far as three stories down.  The co-ops replaced this way of life but local residents are still keen on preserving the history of these cellars.

After lunch, Javier gave us a tour of a portion of  these cellars.  Going up and down the stairs just once without a sheep skin full of wine draped around my neck, I could see why one might encourage the growth of the co-ops!

Passion for the art of winemaking at Bodegas J.A. Calvo Casajús

That evening Javier took us to one of the most celebrated wineries in the country; Bodegas J.A. Calvo Casajus.  Here we met Jose Alberto Casajus and his family; he’s the owner, winemaker and one of three employees of the winery.  I couldn’t have been more humbled to meet him.

Jose gave us a quick tour of one of his low-yielding vineyards, “Peningles” and the co-op where he made his first wine.  Both his grandparents and those of his wife planted the vast majority of the vineyards in production today. He gave a wry smile when he ran his hand up and down the fermenting vessel, describing how all of the acid from the grapes of his first vintage was stripped out of the wine and leeched into the cement of the tank.

Back at the winery, he let us try a barrel sample of Garnacha (pictured left), which unfortunately won’t see a commercial release.  Too bad for us all, it was amazingly fresh and had incredible concentration.

We were also treated to barrel samples of the tiny parcels that will go into the creation of the 2015 vintage of his flagship wine NICFinally,  Jose walked us through a tasting of the latest Casajus portfolio releases.  To emphasize the potential longevity of NIC he brought out a bottle of the 2004 vintage, which was declared the favourite of everyone at the table.

After the formalities of the tasting, Jose and his family treated us to one of the most memorable dinners I’ve ever experienced due to the delicious simplicity of the food and the warmth of our hosts.