Winemaker Carolina Garcia Viadero refers to the wines she creates for Bodegas Valduero in Spain’s Ribera del Duero region as “little pieces of art.”
I don’t drink a lot of Spanish wines, but when I do, the ones from Ribera del Duero in northern Spain are often my favorites.
So I was thrilled to be invited to meet Viadero and sample some of her most prized masterpieces at a recent tasting for wine collectors and wine professionals in Orlando.
Bodegas Valduero is a family-owned operation that takes extraordinary care with its growing and winemaking techniques.
Viadero proudly told me, in her charmingly and heavily accented English, that everything is done by hand, from the grape picking to the crushing.
Valduero doesn’t grow its grapes on trellises either; the fruit grows on bushes along the ground, and the vines are aggressively pruned. This means fewer grapes are produced which, generally, means more concentrated flavor in the wine.
“The Only White Wine in Ribera del Duero”
When I think of Spanish wines, I generally think BIG REDS. So for me, the most surprisingly delightful wine of the evening was a beautiful and elegant white.
Bodegas Valduero calls its single white bottling, from the albillo grape, “the only white wine in Ribera del Duero.”
That’s not quite true – I found at least one other white bottle online – but there definitely isn’t a lot of white wine made there. (One source said whites make up only about 3% of total Ribera del Duero production.)
I also found out that regional regulations don’t allow any white wines to carry the Ribera del Duero label. There was a proposal on the table to change that last year, but it looks like that hasn’t been approved yet, since the Ribera del Duero website doesn’t list any whites among its wine categories.
Valduero’s Yunquera Blanca de Albillo (we tried the 2014 and 2015 vintages) reminded me of a beautiful bouquet of white flowers.
I struggled to come up with a comparison to a better-known grape varietal, but my friends at the tasting hit the nail on the head when they compared it to a viognier. I might say it’s like a cross between viognier and chenin, but without any of the funk that can sometimes inhabit those varietals.
In any case, I was enchanted by this wine. There’s a bottle in my fridge as we speak, waiting to be paired with a hot Florida afternoon on the porch.
Like most Ribera del Duero wines, Valduero’s reds are made from the tempranillo grape. The winery calls by its regional name, tinto fino.
Valduero ages its reds much longer than it has to. Gran reservas, for example, must be aged for five years under regional regulations; Valduero’s are aged for more than seven.
Winemaker Viadero is also passionate about oak.
“We play with oak like a painter plays with colors in a painting,” she told us.
Some of her reds spend time in oak barrels that hail from as many as six different locations.
We were treated to six of Valduero’s best reds:
- 2009 & 2011 “Una Cepa”
The name of this wine means “one vine.” Each bottle is produced from the grapes of one single tempranillo bush.
- 2009 “6 Anos”
As the name suggests, this wine was aged for six years – three in oak (four kinds) and three more in the bottle.
- 2004 & 2001 Gran Reservas
These wines were aged for more than seven years – four in oak (six kinds) and more than three in the bottle. Valduero produces fewer than 900 cases of this wine each year.
- 1999 “12 Anos”
This is Valduero’s most exclusive wine.
The 09 is the current vintage. It was aged for four years in six kinds of oak, and it’s been hanging out in the bottle since 2004.The winery produced only 838 bottles and 102 magnums of this wine. (The fact that Viadero was willing to crack a couple for our group was pretty remarkable.)Viadero told us many of her customers send private planes to the winery to pick up this wine, which is selling for around $800 a bottle.
So how did they taste??
I will preface this section with a reminder that, as I wrote in my inaugural post, I’m not a sommelier or a professional wine critic. I study wine simply for the fun of it … and I’ll admit that I feel a little unqualified to judge such exclusive wines.
I’m further handicapped in this case by a tragic phone accident (namely, I dropped the phone in the toilet) that occurred between the night of Valduero tasting and the writing of this post. Sadly, the phone, which contained all my tasting notes from the evening, never recovered.
One final disclaimer – I tasted the 12 Anos at the very beginning of the evening, before my palate was ready for it and possibly before the wine itself had opened properly. The host of the tasting – who’s also a friend – wanted to make sure I got a taste before the bottle ran dry, and I’m truly grateful I was able to sample it. I don’t know, however, that I can fairly evaluate it.
With all of that said, the standout of the evening for me was the 2001 Gran Reserva.
The wine was well balanced between fruit and earth, with notes of unsweetened cocoa powder and coffee. It had a texture you could feel in your mouth as well as taste.
Many of the other wines were excellent examples of Ribera del Duero … but this one seemed to somehow transcend its place of origin.
Throughout the night, Viadero kept saying about many of her wines, “This is a chateau.”
I’m not quite sure what she meant by that. I think something was lost in the translation.
But I do know that I could’ve easily mistaken the Grand Reserva (and maybe a few of the others) for high-end Bordeaux.
Bottom line, many of these bottles – from the floral white albillo to the Gran Reserva with echoes of France – challenged my ideas about Spanish wine.
And that, once again, is why I love learning about wine. As soon as you think you know something … you find the exception to the rule.
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