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.
Spain has more acres under vine than any other country and ranks third in production behind Italy and France. Much of this output continues to be hot-country jug wine made to satisfy the everyday thirsts of the domestic and greater European markets. But many inexpensive Spanish wines that once were rustic, tired, or dried out have been replaced by bottlings that are lush, round, ripe, and cleanly made. Regions that previously made blended Spanish wines that were virtually too strong to be bottled on their own, such as Tarragona, Valencia, Yecla, Jumilla, and Toro are now firmly in the table wine business, even if these wines of Spain can be alarmingly high in alcohol.
At the high end are exciting new bottlings from the historically important Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions in north-central Spain and from the wild, hilly Priorat in Cataluña, in the northeast corner of the country. A new generation of Spanish wine makers has begun crafting wines in a distinctly modern international style: deeply colored, very ripe, and high in alcohol, generally aged in a high percentage of new French oak, and often quite pricey. The majority of these wines are based on Tempranillo, Spain's most distinguished red variety. While the ultimate quality and longevity of these Spanish wines are yet to be proven, these new bottlings have unquestionably captured the attention of wine drinkers both inside and outside Spain.
Although much of Spain bakes in the sun for at least half the year, the country actually covers a vast range of climates-from the cooler and much wetter Atlantic-influenced northwest, to the arid, blazing Mediterranean south and southeast-so vintage generalizations are tricky with Spanish wines. Moreover, the majority of Spain's better vineyards lie at relatively high altitude, where summer nights are cool even when afternoons are stifling. " e wines and is perfect with any chocolate dessert.