Template tempranillo? A tasting of the Ribera del Duero wines of Alejandro Fernández

Most people when they think of tempranillo automatically default to the Rioja wine region in Spain and it is fair to say it remains a bastion of that grape and a stellar wine region (my first and enduring love, wine wise).

Tempranillo does, however, have a wider spread in Spain (and it is increasingly being grown outside of its Spanish heartlands –  I even had one recently from Germany and pretty good it was too) and another areas of tempranillo greatness is the Spanish wine region of Ribera del Dueroo.

Despite having a seemingly equally long history of wine making as Rioja (going back to Roman times) and being home to one of Spain’s most prestigious winery, in the form of Vega Sicilia, the Ribera del Duero wine region was only official recognised with D.O. (Denominación de Origen) status in 1982.

Rioja, by contrast, gained its D.O. status in 1925 and was promoted to DOCa (Denominacíon de Origen Calificada) status in 1991 (Ribera del Duero has yet to be granted DOCa status).

In terms of putting the Ribera del Duero wine region on the map, few people have done more than Alejandro Fernández.

He set up shop, wine production wise, in the area in 1972 (he was born and breed there) and was one of the driving forces behind the successful campaign to grant the area D.O. status.

From humble beginnings, Grupo Pesquera is now made up of four bodegas in the form of:

  • Tinto Pesquera (Ribera del Duero)
  • Condado de Haza (Ribera del Duero)
  • Dehesa La Granja (Castillo y Leon); and
  • El Vinculo (La Mancha – the red is the house wine at La Monde here in Cardiff.
Tempranillo is king in these bodegas, with the top three entirely dedicated to Tempranillo (no blends, with all wines made from 100% tempranillo) and the El Vinculo reds also being 100% tempranillo, but with that winery also produces an Airen based white wine.

It was wines from the top two bodegas that formed a tasting at Cardiff’s Mystere Wine club (all from the club’s rather fine cellar, bar from one that came from my collection).

All the wines (bar from one – the Alenza) were crianzas, which requires (under the Ribera del Duero D.O. rules) a minimum period of aging of the wine of two years, with at least 1 year of that in oak barrels. 

The wines

Condado de Haza

The Condado de Haza winery is located in the middle of nowhere on the banks of the mighty Duero river.

I would say it is equidistant to Peñafiel (serious wine town) and Aranda de Duero (famed for its suckling lamb – lecheza – excellent paired with a Ribera del Duero wine).

Established in 1987 (with the first wines released in 1994), the bodega has 164 hectares of tempranillo (commonly referred to as tinto fino in Ribera del Duero) planted at an altitude of 811 metres (2660 feet).

It was one of the first chateau style vineyards, with all of the vines surrounding the bodega, in Spain (still something that is quite unusual in Spanish wineries).

The wines from this bodega are considered to be the most traditional of those produced by Grupo Pesqera, with many regarding it as sitting below Tinto Pesquera in quality terms. Personally I think the wine from here are just different from those of Tinto Pesquera.

It is also subject to the coolest climate of all of Grupo Pesquera’s vineyards and thus is picked the latest.

The crianza wines are aged for 18 months in American oak and then 6 months in the bottle before release.

All the wines are unfiltered and unfined (so be wary of sendiment).

Condado de Haza  2015

A real big boy this, with a rich spicy nose giving off lots of fruit (almost kirsch like) and then, as it sat in the glass, there was a distinct whiff of cola cubes.

On the palate, it was a really dark fruity number. Whilst drinking well now it will certainly get better with a few more years in the bottle. 

I think this wine is very good value for money wine, so one to pick up if you see it.

Price: Around the £18 mark.

Condado de Haza 2006
Big jump in vintages, with the 2006 regarded as a decent vintage but one that suffers a bit in comparison with the highly regarded 2004 and 2005 vintages.

In the glass there was a surprise lack of difference between the colour of 
this wine and the 2015. 

On the nose there was the rich dark fruit hit that the 2015 had, but (at least to me) it lacked the other notes that came with the 2015.

On the palate, I found it a bit hot, with a touch of astringency.  Lacking in length, it tailed off quite quickly. I am not sure where this wine is going and am not convinced it will develop any further. 

My lowest scoring of the Condado wines on the night and one to drink up now if you have any.

I preferred the 2015 and think that will develop into a better wine. This I think one is pretty much done development wise.

Price: Around the £26 mark.

Condado de Haza 2005
After the 2006, this was more like it. A big nose with plenty of dark fruit and vanilla spice (from the oak). It also offered up touches of leather as it developed in the glass.

On the palate it was a fruit bomb, with loads of blackcurrant and blackberry coming through. A nice level of acidity, however, kept it all in balance.

Plenty of life left in this wine, with tannins still there. Consensus of opinion at the tasting was this is yet to peak.

Cracking wine and I placed it second on the night (it ran the eventual  winner very close).

Price: Around the £32 mark.

Alenza, 1996
Only made in the best years, Alenza is the estate’s top wine. It is kept in new American oak barrels for 30 plus months and bottle for a similar period. In theory, at least, that makes it a gran reserva wine, although oddly the label on the back of this wine refers to it as a crianza. Not sure why it is labelled as such (am sure someone will enlighten me).

Bit of trivia is the name of this wine is derived from the first three letters of Alejandro’s name and the last three letter of the name of his wife, Esperanza (use to have a girlfriend called that eons ago).

Back to the wine, 1996 was deemed to be a very good vintage. It is, however, thought of as one to drink now rather than to hold onto (a potentially bad habit of mine that sometimes bears fruit, well more teritary notes, but probably too often won’t).

This was the one wine that actually showed some aging in the colour, with a bricky rim (still had a dark core mind and at 24 years old it  looked surprisingly youthful).

On the nose, there wasn’t much fruit and more a case of earthiness and forest floor aromas. Some thought it a touch dusty.

On the palate, it delivered a real hit of blood orange zestiness (which I loved) as well as cola cube and a note of  biltong meatiness as it lingered on the palate.

Still plenty of acidity in the mix,  which gave it a remarkable freshness for a wine nigh on a quarter of a century old.

I really enjoyed it, but some thought it a bit one dimensional (those that did  thought the orange was too dominate and overpowered).

I thought it was a nice example of how tempranillo can age gracefully, but is it worth the money (£80 plus at Hedonism)? Hmmm, not so sure about that.

Probably one to drink up, I have a couple of bottles left (I paid £40 at auction for each – which I think was a fair price), so will move them to the “To be drunk” section in the wine room.

Price: £81 (in UK if you can find it).

Tinto Pesquera

On to the Pesquera wines, the winery is located close to the River Duero in the village, where both Alejandro and Esperanza were born, of Pesquera de Duero (north west of Peñafiel, the place also house the excellent Bodegas Emilio Moro whose wines are sold at Curado Bar here in Cardiff).

Robert Parker (a huge influencer wine wise in anyone’s book – whether that has been for good or ill depends on your point of view) once described the wine of Pesquera as the Spanish Petrus. Praise indeed many would say, with Petrus 2017 going for £2,500 + a bottle. 

Having never has the pleasure of tasting Petrus I can’t say for sure, but have my doubts as to the validity of the comparison.

They have about 200 hectares under vine, located at altitudes of around the 730 metre mark ( 2,400 feet) and produce crianza, reserva and a selection of gran reserva wines.

The crianzas are aged in new American oak barrels for 18 months and then in the bottle for another 6 months before release.

All the wines are unfiltered and unfined (so again beware of sendiment).

Pesquera  2015

Interesting to compare this to the  Condado 2015.

On the nose it again was a big hitter with lots of sweet dark fruit (blackberry mainly) and a touch of star anise.

On the palate, there was mint –  loads and loads of mint (too much for me), followed  by a hit of dark chocolate and Asian spice (someone said curry powder – the slightly sweet fruity kind).
Not a wine I would have put as a tempranillo or even from Spain if tasting blind. Much more New World (Australian) in style.
To me there was far to much going on – I think I said too many people in the pool with everyone splashing each other. To me the component parts here just haven’t knitted together.

Found this quite an unbalanced wine and I much preferred the Condado 2015.

Price: £21.50.

Pesquera  2006

Lovely wine this, with a heady nose of blackfruit, spice and cigar box.
On the palate it was silky smooth, with fleshy tannins, black fruit,  pepper and a nice long finish.

Wonderfully balanced wine that is at or close to the peak of it powers.

Mine and the club members’ wine of the night.

Price: Around the £30 mark.

Pesquera 2005

In theory a better vintage than the 2006, this was a disappointment.

The nose was quite dumb, with lots of unripe green notes and a touch of coffee but of the bitter variety.

On the palate it was really hot (almost chilli like on the tongue) and stemmy, with a distinct astringency.

Not a patch on the Condado 2005, with most of the room of the view there was a fault with this wine.

Price : £30 ish

Pesquera 2004

Again another very good vintage in Ribero del Duero and again a disappointing wine to my mind.

Nothing really of note on the nose, certainly none of the dark fruit, vanilla, tobacco, earthy, old leather notes that tasting notes I had looked at prior to the tasting promised

On the palate, it was (like the 2005) very hot, as well as a bit flabby and lacking in structure. This wine seemed to me to be falling apart.

Like the 2005 it didn’t score a single point on the night.

Price : Couldn’t find one!

The Verdict

Interesting tasting, with the Condado de Haza wines generally showing better than the Pesqueras (with the notable exception of the Pesquera 2006).

The Pesquera 2005 and 2004 (meant to be better vintages than the 2006) disappointed. Something odd/off with both of these wines.

Interested to hear thoughts of others who have tried the 2004 and 2005. Were these one off’s or was there a wider problem?

The Alenza 1996 split the room, with its distinct orange zestiness. If you like aged tempranello (and I do, I really do) then I think you will like it, but many found it it a touch one dimensional (personally I thought it had nuances) and over the hill. Certainly one to drink up if you have any hanging around.

My top three accorded with that of the wider club members (unusual that) and was as follows:

  • Pesquera 2006
  • Condado de Haza 2005
  • Alenza 1996.

Best value wine of the night was probably the Condado de Hazo 2015 – drinking nicely now, but it will develop.

Has the makings of a fab wine if you are prepared to wait a few years and it is nicely priced at the moment if you can find it.

The next Mystere Wine Club tasting is a potentially fascinating blind tasting pitting South Africa against Burgundy.

I reckon this will surprise many, especially if this beauty of a chardonnay from Restless River   (which the lady leading the tasting brought to the last club committee meeting)

is anything to go by.  It was an absolute belter of a wine.

New members are always welcome at the Mystere Wine Club, so drop me a line (DM on twitter or email me – details in the “About page” on the blog), if you want to do a “try before you buy” tasting (just pay the tasting fee – please note this only applies to one tasting, then if you want to come to more you have to join) or just want to join up from the off.

The SA v Burgundy tasting is £35 and club membership fee for 2020 is £40 – both bargains.