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How to Refresh Your Wine Program with Ribera del Duero and Rueda Wines

Top restaurant and retail accounts are finding new success with Spain’s most popular wines

The wines of Rueda and Ribera del Duero are finding new prominence on restaurant wine lists and retail shelves around the country. Buyers ramping up their by-the-glass and bottle offerings with fresh selections are increasingly turning to these Spanish wines for their accessibility, value, and authentic heritage. “For Ribera del Duero and Rueda wines, character overrides all,” says Doug Jeffirs, director of wine sales at Binny’s Beverage Depot, a Chicago-based retailer with more than 30 locations. “More than ever, people want real wines. Wines with personality and a sense of place, made by real people.”

These sister regions are the second and third largest wine regions in Spain, by production (behind Rioja), but most wineries in the area are small, family-owned operations. Rueda and Ribera del Duero are located on a high-elevation plateau along the Duero River in the Castilla y León region in North-Central Spain, two hours north of Madrid. In both areas, high sunshine exposure, dramatic temperature shifts, dry conditions, and optimal soils help produce exceptional, easy-to-drink wines that are versatile with myriad flavors and cuisines.

In the decades since Rueda attained Denominación de Origen (DO) recognition in 1980, with Ribera del Duero following two years later, the regions have matured considerably. Producers now recognize the potential of their dirt, climate, and native varieties, according to Brahm Callahan, MS, corporate beverage director for Boston’s Himmel Hospitality. “When you go to Ribera and Rueda, you see the level of detail where they pick, the breaking apart of plots,” he says. Grapes from different plots are typically hand picked and fermented separately, so winemakers can control the process and understand the best way to make wine from each plot. “That is something that was not normal even 25 to 30 years ago, but now Spain is leading the charge for Europe,” Callahan notes. While organic viticulture is becoming increasingly popular throughout the wine world, many growers in these regions have always farmed organically.How to Refresh Your Wine Program with Ribera del Duero and Rueda Wines

SevenFifty Daily tapped top buyers from around the country to share their tips for maximizing the potential of these distinctive wines in restaurant and retail settings.

Positioning Spain’s Wines of Place

These days, Rueda and Ribera del Duero wines are largely created in a clean, focused, modern style, making them highly versatile across the consumer spectrum. “These wines are unique in that they’re convenient sells for customers of New World wines and Old World wines,” Jeffirs says.

Rueda’s soil is a blend of stones, clay, limestone, and gravel—an optimal combination for white wine production. Wines in the region are almost exclusively produced from white varieties, with the majority of them made with 100% Verdejo grapes, although Verdejo-based blends with Viura and 100% Sauvignon Blancs are also found.

Rueda’s traditional style of Verdejo is fresh, crisp, and dry, with herbaceous, grassy and subtle tropical fruit notes. Some producers are experimenting with fermenting and aging Verdejo in oak, on the lees, or in cement eggs or amphora vessels, which is giving way to a new style of fuller bodied Rueda wines, more akin to oak-aged Chardonnay. “I love all of the barrel-fermented wines, where Verdejo gains an unctuous character; it’s super cool stuff,” says Charles Ford, who worked extensively with Rueda and Ribera as wine director and general manager of The Bristol, a new American gastropub in Chicago.

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