Located in north-central Spain, to the southwest of Rioja, the high plain of Ribera del Duero is Tempranillo country, with nearly all of the best wines made entirely or almost all from this variety. As in Rioja, the spring comes late here; summer temperatures can be hot but the nighttime cools considerably at these altitudes, with the result that the wines from this region normally possess decent acidity and avoid overripe character.
As a region, Ribera del Duero came to prominence in the 1980s by offering more deeply colored, aggressively fruity, alcoholic, and tannic reds from its own more structured and sometimes higher-acid Tinta del país or Tinto fino (local names for Tempranillo), occasionally with a bit of Cabernet added. Compared to Rioja, most Ribera del Duero wines are aged for a shorter period of time in small oak barrels-a higher percentage of which are new-and are released earlier. The most powerful of these wines require extended time in bottle to refine their tannins, but there are plenty of lesser Ribra del Duero wines that offer early appeal.
Ribera del Duero has seen explosive growth in the past decade, and the quality of today's Ribera del Duero wines varies widely. The best examples are more suave than ever, as gentler handling of the fruit has enabled many producers to make wines of greater class without compromising structure or freshness. The lesser examples-and there are still too many of these-are dilute, rustic, or too dry. Some show signs of unclean barrels, while in other cases young vines are the explanation for a lack of intensity.