This quote from Castilla y León’s most famous author could be applied to many things, but perhaps no more so than to the wine region of Ribera del Duero, an area two hours north of Madrid. Located within Castilla y León – Spain’s largest autonomous region – it is home to more than 300 wineries and 2,300 brands, all of which have an almost singular focus: tempranillo.
Usually referred to in these parts as Tinto Fino or Tinta del Pais to distinguish it from other nearby tempranillos as well as to highlight the uniqueness of the Ribera del Duero’s unique influence on the grape’s characteristics, the thick-skinned grape is grown in a place of extremes – extreme temperatures, rocky terrain, and high altitudes. Despite these inherent challenges, the reward in Cervantes’s assertion explains why winemakers have chosen to practice their craft here: breathtaking results.
Ribera del Duero translates to the riverbanks of the Duero – the river that cuts a 70 mile path (110 km) path through the region, lending diverse soils and an ever-so-slight moderating effect on the climate. It is a place where castles (“castillos”) dominate the landscape and with those, a reminder of the history that informs not just the winegrowing here but also the importance of the region to the development of the entire country of Spain.
When winemaking began in Rueda around 1,000 years ago, it’s a wonder anyone would have thought to plant grapes in this region of extremes – blisteringly hot summers, bitterly cold winters, and a relatively high altitude. Happily, the local monks and the Verdejo grape, native to North Africa, arrived in the region at about the same time, and in that grape, the monks saw possibility where there wasn’t necessarily promise, and perhaps they were thirsty.
A 100-mile journey on the A-6 north from Madrid, Rueda is a vast expanse of lime-rich alluvial soils and in much of it, stones and pebbles – lots of pebbles. It is part of Castilla y León, Spain’s largest region and Europe’s third. The region is best known as the granary because of the extensive plantings of wheat and other grains – a kind of cereal center. Given this, it seems unlikely to be home to the prestigious wine areas within it, but a river runs through it, and with that, the key to vibrant vineyards and the wines that come from them.