Here at Totally Spain, we are huge fans of Spain’s amazing vineyards and have been sending clients to Spain’s best wineries since we started out in the year 2000. We’ve already blogged about Spain’s best wineries to visit and written guides for La Rioja, Rioja Alavesa, Rias Baixas, Jerez and Cantabria, so today we’re bringing you the best of the Ribera del Duero, one of Spain’s most exclusive wine regions.
Ribera del Duero Wine Region in Spain – 18 Tips
1 Did you know the Ribera del Duero only became a DO in 1982?
Famous for its dark intensely rich red wines, the Ribera del Duero region only became a denomination (DO) in 1982. Today over 1,200 brands bear the denomination seal of Ribera del Duero DO and the name has claimed the hearts of many Spaniards and plenty of international sommeliers and wine aficionados too.
2 Exclusive Names in this Wine Region of the Year
Although it’s well-known for its high-end wines, you’ll find every budget is catered for when touring this region. The best-known wineries here include names such as Vega Sicilia, Dominio de Pingus, Bodegas Aalto and Vina Sastre that can charge over 200 euro for some of their bottles. But those same wineries also produce bottles for less than 30 euro. (The exception here is Vega Sicilia – its entry level Ribera which is a reserve that retails under the name Alion still clocks in around 40 euro a pop.) But don’t worry – there are many producers such as Pago de Carraovejas, Vina Pedrosa, Emilio Moro, Arzuaga, PradoRey and Pago de los Capellanes (to name but a few) that provide ‘out of this world’ wines at very ordinary prices. And don’t just take our word for it – the Wine Enthusiast Magazine named it Wine Region of the Year back in 2012, co-inciding with the 30th anniversary of the DO.
3 This winery region is in Castile in NW Spain
This DO region gets its name from the Duero river that starts out in Soria and flows through Castille-Leon and on into Portugal where it becomes the Douro and spills into the sea in Porto. You (and your camera) will love the beautiful landscapes you’ll encounter here in Ribera. As you’d expect, the Castilian climate is dry and hot in summer (although the nights can be pretty chilly) and cold during the winter. This climate helps to preserve the acidity in the grapes here.
4 The tempranillo grape dominates…
As you’ll find out on your winery visits, tempranillo is by far the most dominant grape in the region. You might also hear it called Tinto Fino or Tinta del Pais. And you’ll also come across a few other varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Garnacha Tinta. Your winery guide will be able to explain the characteristics of each and the blend they use in each of their wines.
5 On a two-night break? Base yourself near Penafiel
Most of our clients spend two to three nights here visiting the wineries and we always recommend selecting one place to base yourself and tour the area as it’s not huge. Aranda de Duero and Penafiel are the two biggest centres of activity in the DO. We usually favour the area near Penafiel which is a bit further from the main cities than Aranda but is still less than two hours from Madrid’s International Airport.
As for hotels, there are a number of very good hotels in the region though we were bowled over recently when we stayed at the relatively new Castilla Termal Monasterio de Valbuena Hotel & Spa. It’s a magnificent, historical 5 star hotel located about 15 minutes from Peñafiel and less than a kilometre from the Emina winery & restaurant. It has been meticulously renovated and oozes character and charm with it’s blend of old and new. Incidently, it’s sister hotel in Olmedo – the 4 star Castilla Termal Balneario de Olmedo – is also a terrific hotel and an ideal base for exploring the Rueda wine region.
6 Visit Norman Foster’s Portia Winery in Aranda de Duero
Although we usually recommend staying near Penafiel, we encourage clients to stop off at a winery in Aranda de Duero and this one is very easy to find if you are travelling from La Rioja, Rueda or Madrid. When we plan an itinerary touring wineries we like to showcase new and old, little and large and this is one of the newest wineries in the region. Designed by Fosters+Partners, the winery building is constructed using the same materials that are used in the wine-making process – steel, oak, glass and concrete. Part of the Faustino group, Portia produces four delicious wines using the Tempranillo grape and you’ll taste at least two on these on your visit. You can also shop for wine, and enjoy the café and restaurant. Check the Facebook page for details of temporary exhibitions, special food pairings and other events at this winery.
7 Explore the past and the present at Penafiel’s Protos Winery designed by Richard Rogers
If you’d like to see a large scale producer that has been operating in the area since the 1920s, this is the winery for you. The location of the winery within sight of Penafiel Castle is most striking. When you take the tour, you’ll also visit the modern new facilities plus the original wine cellars underground that burrow into the mountain which are fascinating. Visits vary in length but the basic ticket also includes the tasting of two wines.
8 Visit Pago de Carraovejas at the foot of Penafiel Castle, Penafiel
Not just an exceptional winery but we love the views of the castle and the story behind the winery. The visit here lasts a few hours because you get a chance to see the full process – starting in the vineyard and finishing up at the bottling. Wine tastings take place at the winery but you might be encouraged by your guide to visit the owner’s traditional restaurant in nearby Segovia for full dining facilities. Curiously, the restaurant came before the wine. Jose Maria started out as a sommelier, then opened a restaurant and only then did he start the winery. It’s a 70 minute drive from the winery to Segovia so we recommend you taste the wines in situ first and make a booking before you leave.
9 Visit Bodegas Comenge, Curiel de Duero (near Penafiel)
In between all the big muscle, it’s always nice to see one of the smaller wineries and we love the approach that Comenge is taking. This family-owned winery began life back in 1999 although some of its vines predate that. Because we often visit wineries as a family and programme visits for mixed-age groups, we love the feeling of being that little bit different that you get at Comenge. The winery is really welcoming to families and organises picnics in between the vineyards, arranges horse drawn carriage rides between the vines, and arranges live music in the Summer evenings. Visits always include a tour and tasting. As this is run as an organic winery, you’ll find different approaches are being taken here. Owner Jaime Comenge is the first generation to produce wine but his father, Miguel Comenge, a pharmacist, produced the definitive guide to Spain’s vines back in 1947. In his father’s honour, you’ll find a ‘reserva’ called Don Miguel Comenge which has won the praise of the wine critics – its 2011 notched up 94 points in the Penin guide and 91 Parker points! This winery is near to Curiel Castle just a few minutes drive from Penafiel.
10 Drive the Golden Mile
The revered land in between Penafiel and Tudela de Duero (which lies just outside the DO) contains some of the classiest names in the region. Because you really can’t do more than two proper winery visits per day, we’d suggest driving along here and dropping into a few more wineries just to get a sense of their identity and pick up some wine at their store. Check out the Bodega Matarromera for its wines (including an alcohol-free wine), olive oils and cosmetics. (Do drop into Abadia Retuerta which is located just outside the DO, where you can pick up a bottle or two of wine and some of its wine salt and other produce as well.)
11 Visit Penafiel Castle and Wine Museum
You’ll see it if you visit Protos or Pago de Carraovejas but make sure you get inside the 15th century castle itself. Built atop a 10th century fortress, the current castle has evolved through the centuries and was declared a national monument in 1917. It’s often compared to a battleship because of its long narrow structure. After enjoying the tour of the Gothic castle itself and exploring the 30m high keep, stone vault and the eight turrets, you’ll love the views looking out onto the Duratón and Botijas valleys which was of strategic importance during the Reconquista. And if you need another reason to visit, you should know that since 1999, the castle has housed the Provincial Wine Museum that includes a tasting room. To learn more about the castles in this part of Spain, read our guide here.
12 Walk about Aranda de Duero in Burgos
To explore its fine old quarter and the elaborate 15th century Isabelline façade of the Iglesia de Santa Maria and the Palace of Verdugo, from the same period. See also the Palace of Colmenares and the Romanesque bridge. And we love the model of the town complete with its 300 subterranean wineries that you can find in the town’s Wine Related Architecture Interpretation Centre in the Plaza Mayor. You can access this centre inside the town’s tourist office and your visit also takes in the Animas Winery. Leave some time to enjoy a meal in one of the town’s many ‘asadores’.
13 Visit Banos de Valdearados
Famous for its Roman festival in the Summer and you can still see the mosaics from the 14th century that celebrate Bacchus. Unfortunately some of the mosaic was stolen back in 2011 but that doesn’t stop the fiestas – a perfect treat for all the family.
14 Enjoy a roast
We all know you should never drink on an empty stomach and that certainly won’t be a problem here in the Ribera del Duero. This part of Spain is legendary for its roasts as well as its wine. As you’d expect, the larger bodegas have restaurants open to the public – which can make a perfect end to a winery visit. But we also recommend that you check out a typical rustic ‘asador’ for which this region is famed. ‘Asar’ means to roast so prepare yourself for some roasted chorizo and morcilla (blood pudding) plus the sweetest of roast peppers for starters and roast lamb served with a fresh green salad for main. Wash it all down with some wonderful local reds and you will need a strong coffee to get you going again! (If this seems like too much of a meat-fest, we can organise alternative menus for you and your party.)
15 Visit Segovia City nearby
Drive south to see the near perfect Roman aqueduct that dates from the 1st century AD and was in use up to the 19th century. Explore the 16th century Gothic cathedral which features a retablo by Churriguera and Sabattini. The San Esteban church with its astonishing high tower or the San Millan Romanesque church which has a 10th-century Mozarabic structure in its tower are also interesting as is the Jewish Quarter. And you must visit the Alcazar, built in many stages from the 11th to the 19th centuries, it’s the place Isabella sought refuge the day before she was named Queen of Castille and Leon. Eat at one of the city’s traditional ‘meson’ restaurants. Segovia is just one hour from Penafiel by car and is one of our recommended Day Trips from Madrid.
16 Have a few days to spare? Continue on to La Rioja
Drive NE to Burgos to see its amazing cathedral and castle which is just 75 min from Penafiel. You’ll quickly notice the pilgrims as this is a very popular stop-over for the Camino de Santiago walkers. Continue on another 70 mins in the car to visit Santo Domingo de la Calzada to stroll through the Medieval streets where the pilgrims have been passing through for centuries. You can visit the cathedral and afterwards pick up some of the typical pastries produced here that are made in the shape of the St James shell. (Check out our guide to Driving the Camino de Santiago is you are interested in exploring this route by car.) From Santo Domingo de la Calzada, it’s just 40 minutes to get to the La Rioja or La Rioja Alavesa wine regions – you’ll be aiming for either Laguardia or Logrono.
17 Heading back to Madrid instead? Stop off in Pedraza
You’ll feel like you have travelled back in time in the beautiful walled medieval town complete with a beautiful Plaza Mayor, cobbled streets, emblazoned houses, the 12th century parish church and the 13th century castle. If you enjoy art, check out the Zuloaga Museum– which includes work by the Basque painter of the same name and El Greco and Goya. Pedraza is 70 minutes SE of Penafiel and Madrid Airport is another 70 mins from Pedraza. You’ll take a few minutes more to drive into downtown Madrid.
18 Pro-tip : Never turn up on spec. Always pre-book your winery tours
Do not expect to get a place on any winery tour in Spain without pre-booking – especially if you require a tour in English. We recommend you pre-book all winery tours in the Ribera del Duero. We can help you with an itinerary and hotel and winery reservations and can book you in or provide you with a list of suggested restaurants and other activities that will suit your itinerary and group size. We can also open your itinerary out to other wine regions in Spain or broaden it to including food tours and tastings. If you’d like to explore the food sector in depth, we can put together a bespoke itinerary on agricultural touring.