Mission impossible?

By Celia Strong

Apparently the heat of summer is here. When we’re inside, with the air conditioner running full force, that doesn’t seem so bad. Outside is another story. Problem is, inside or out, some of us will always like to drink red wines. For the next several months, this can be pretty difficult. Heat on full force outside or air conditioner struggling to keep up inside. So, our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to find some nice red wines that might be drinkable inside and out. Like back and forth, from the kitchen counter to the grill. In the cool, in the heat, back and forth. Possible? Let’s see.

Our “mission” is going to take us to Spain. A country where many parts have long hot and humid summer weather like we do. Our region is Ribera del Duero. This is a DO (Denominacion de Origen) that is located in northern central Spain. Inland, with no shoreline or ocean breezes. Ribera del Duero is on Spain’s northern plateau, within the Castile and Léon community. The DO is centered around the town of Aranda de Duero, although the better vineyards are located in the western side near Peñafel and Roa de Duero. In 2012, Ribera del Duero was named the wine region of the year by “Wine Enthusiast Magazine.”

Wine has been produced in this region for thousands of years. Recently, a two hundred and sixteen foot long mosaic of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and other things, was found in the region. This mosaic is over two thousand years old. But, viticulture as we know came with the Benedictine monks from the Cluny Abbey of Burgundy, France, in the twelfth century. The Do Ribera del Duero was established July 21, 1982. (There were rumors it was to be upgraded to DOCa status in 2008, but so far that has not happened. DOCa is an elevated level within the Spanish DO laws.)

The region gets its name from the Duero River. (“Ribera” means the “banks” of the Duero.) The Duero Valley was formed during the Miocine period (roughly twenty-three million to five million years ago) and has a flat, rocky, gently undulating terrain. The soils are silty or clay-y sand along with limestone, marl and chalky deposits. All types of soils we’ve heard of in other areas that grow good wine grapes. Most of the valley floor is between 2400 and 2800 feet above sea level. The summers are long and dry with temperatures as high as one hundred and five degrees. Sound familiar? Feel familiar? Winters, though, are much colder than here, with temperatures regularly dropping down to just below zero. The vineyards get about 2400 hours of sunlight every year.

Almost all of the wines made in Ribero del Duero are red. The few whites that they do make stay at home, with them. Tinto Fino, the local name for Tempranillo, is the main grape variety. It is also called Tinto del Pais here. Sometimes, it is complimented with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot. There are many similarities between Ribero wines and those of their neighboring region, Rioja, besides the same main grape variety. Both regions produce wines that can age and show great complexities. Wines labeled “crianza” must be aged for two years with at least 12 in oak barrels. Wines labeled “reserva” must be aged at least three years including a minimum of 12 in oak barrels. “Gran Reserva” wines have to be aged for at least five years with a minimum of 24 months in barrels. Same as Rioja red wines. And they can get expensive, for the same reasons. According to the DO regulations for these wines, Tempranillo must be at least 75% of the wine.

Looking at Tempranillo for a moment, we need to remember some of the things we’ve learned about it in the past. It is a red grape that is native to Spain. Its name comes from the Spanish word for early, “temprano,” because it ripens early. About two weeks earlier than most other red grapes grown in Spain. It thrives in vineyards with chalky soils. It is a thick-skinned grape that grows better at higher elevations. You know, like 2400 feet up. Vineyard pests and diseases can be a problem for this grape, mainly because it has little resistance to either. Its thicker skin doesn’t give any herbaceous notes to its wines, but they do give intense color to the wines. Tempranillo wines tend to be ruby red in color, with berry, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather, olive and herb flavors. The somewhat neutral character of this grape makes its wines good candidates for barrel aging and for blending with small amounts of other varieties. All of which sounds like it should be growing in Ribera del Duero, right?

Our winery is Bodegas Viña Vilano. This is actually a co-op, created in 1957. And, today, it is still owned and operated by the children and grandchildren of the founders. The whole purpose of a co-op, for wine production at least, is to be able to gather and mix together as many high quality grapes as possible. Viña Vilano is located in the village of Pedrosa de Duero, in the province of Burgos. (Burgos is considered to be the best vineyard site in the Ribero del Duero DO!) Today, Viña Vilano owns almost 750 acres of vines. In the last few years, the co-op members have been able to install state-of-the-art winemaking equipment. And their aging is done with top quality American, French and Central European oak barrels. All of which gets us to our wine for this week. Bodegas Viña Vilano Arderezo Crianza.

This wine is 100% Tempranillo. Arderezo is unoaked and unfiltered. And its grapes come from fifty year old and older vines. Its flavors are concentrated and intense, like you get from older vines. But not too heavy – which you don’t need in really hot weather. It is full of raspberry, plum and blackberry flavors, with hints of smoke and green olives. It has a long, lingering finish with round, smooth, slightly sweet tannins. Pleasant in your mouth so you can sip a second and third time. A second and third glass. And what does the name “arderezo” mean? It means “dressing,” or “adornment,” “seasoning” or “embellishment.” All having to do with food. At the winery, they enjoy this wine with baby lamb. Here? I’m thinking pork and poultry and seafood. I’m also thinking we may have found a great hot weather wine. Intense complex flavors but not heavy. Smooth texture. And, the best part – the price. $9.97. While it lasts. Mission accomplished? Enjoy.

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