Over the past 10 years, the region has been forced to circumnavigate the Spanish financial crisis and fight tooth and claw to make headway in the export arena (brands like Vega Sicilia and Pingus aside), while Rioja continues to hog all the limelight, particularly after the announcement concerning a new category of "Vinedos Singulares" was made in June this year.
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Spreading east from the city of Valladolid in northwest Spain to the wine capital, Aranda de Duero, the best wines I sampled during a recent visit offered great fruit purity and concentration, juxtaposed against a welcome depth and linear acidity.
Moreover, Ribera del Duero is not short on excitement; Abadia Retuerta's single vineyard wines – particularly the outstanding 2013 Syrah – continue to garner critical plaudits, while Mariano Garcia, and his sons Eduardo and Alberto, can seemingly do no wrong in the region.
The problem, however, is that Ribera is attempting to excite consumers at a time when everyone's fallen madly in love with Rioja. The region, of course, got in on the export game far earlier and boasts a formidably strong brand; the value of Rioja's global exports increased by 1.1 percent to €468 million in 2016.
"Ribera just ticks over for us, although sales have been slightly better than the previous 12 months," says wine buyer Christine Parkinson.
"But overall the category has nowhere near caught up with Rioja in terms of consumer recognition or in terms of sales."
Ted Sandbach, owner of the Oxford Wine Company, agrees. "Sales of Ribera have been disappointing considering the quality that exists in the region. Spain is still dominated by cheap and cheerful and Rioja. It's really lagging behind – there is very little public awareness of this, except for our more discerning customers."
But to give the region all due credit, the Consejo Regulador has invested decent sums into promoting their wines over the past couple of years; in 2009, they employed a top New York PR firm Gregory White to raise awareness of the category. More recently, they organized a major roadshow in three cities in 2015, including Edinburgh, Manchester and Dublin with the help of wine experts such as Tom Cannavan, Simon Woods, and Tim Carlisle.
However, buyers and sommeliers argue that too much of the marketing shenanigans have revolved around educating the trade, rather than consumers.
"There have been some tastings for the trade, which is good, but I think the consumer is more interested by some producer names than of 'Ribera del Duero'. In fact, I don't think many consumers know about Ribera del Duero at all," says Parkinson.
"I believe Ribera is catching on, but I think there is still confusion about the appellation," agrees US sommelier Max Kast.
"This, I think, stems from the US market being so driven by varietal. The key is that people understand that the main grape for both appellations is Tempranillo before they get to the nuanced differences between Rioja and RDD. When they understand that the expression of Tempranillo in Ribera del Duero is more concentrated in color and richer in tannin, then consumers will understand that they are very different expressions."
Raj Vaidya, Head Sommelier at Daniel Boulud's flagship restaurant in New York adds that: "We have only a handful of Spanish wines on the list at Daniel... sales of Ribera are less than those of Rioja, where we have pretty much the same number of references."
And so what the region arguably needs, in addition to a more tailored and effective consumer campaign from the Consejo, is a stronger differentiation factor, to sufficiently distance the category from Rioja and create added value in the eyes of the consumer. In the past, producers have used the: "Unlike Rioja, we don't tend to blend, or our wines are stronger and more concentrated stance," which no longer washes. Particularly as 21st Century Rioja is super-concentrated, often produced from 100 percent Tempranillo and lavishly seasoned in new oak.
Indeed, Ribera del Duero is fighting for space in an increasingly competitive arena; Toro, Navarra, new wave Rioja, Penedes and Bierzo all vie for our attention, often with concentrated wines of a similar ilk.
But on the positive side, the region is generally unified in maintaining a prestigious image, and keeping prices above average – very few producers are dumping product on the market. And while the target audience for prestigious Ribera will always remain relatively small, with further and perhaps more targeted efforts from the Consejo, there's no reason why greater amounts of Ribera can't join Bordeaux, Burgundy and Barolo on the world's best wine lists.
Comentario de/ Comment of Wines Inform Assessors:
Leyendo esta opinión me aparece una imagen de distancia al emitirla.
Generalizar en las bondades de una zona es positivo en tanto que aportan una personalidad, pero en mi opinión al final prevalece la personalidad de cada bodega y bodeguero.
No se es mejor por ser de la Rioja o de la Ribera del Duero -ambas regiones unidas en que producen básicamente vinos procedentes de la uva Tempranillo-
Condicionadas por las viñas específicas de su zona -para bien habitualmente, ya que hay bodegas nuevas que sobretodo hace algunos años optaban por las variedades internacionales que supuestamente el mercado pedía- hacen vinos excelentes en cualquier zona y lo relevante es quien los hace
Reading this opinion I see an image of distance when issuing it.
Generalize in the benefits of an area is positive as they provide a personality, but in my opinion in the end prevails the personality of each winery.
It is not better because it is from La Rioja or Ribera del Duero - both of which are united regions in which they basically produce wines from the Tempranillo grape-
Conditioned by the specific vineyards in their area - for good habitually, since there are new wineries that specially few years ago opted for the international varieties that supposedly the market demanded- make excellent wines in any area and what is relevant is who makes them
Wines Inform Assessors, Barcelona
Origin information: Wine Searcher