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The winemakers of Ribera del Duero and Rueda wine regions were locavore, artisanal, and sustainable long before those terms were trendy. These Spanish wines reflect an ancient tradition and a pure sense of place. They have a timeless appeal that knows no borders. There are many things that make these regions special, one of them being the proliferation of their old vines. Listen in and taste along to discover what makes the priceless heritage of Ribera y Rueda’s old vines so special.
On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe are joined by Chris Poldoian, certified sommelier and trade educator for the wines of Ribera y Rueda. The three discuss the history of the region, the range of styles in both appellations, and some classic and novel pairings for each category.
The wines of Ribera del Duero and Rueda are among some of Spain’s best-kept secrets: located in the north-central part of the country, the regions’ winemakers specialize in red wines made from Tempranillo (Ribera del Duero) and white wines made from Verdejo (Rueda). A wealth of old vines and a climate with hot days and cold nights allow both optimal ripening and freshness in both regions.
Or Check out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Wash., I’m Zach Geballe.
A: This is the “VinePair Podcast.” Zach, man, I’m excited about this topic today. I love these wine regions, but before we get into it, we’ve got an ad read from these wine regions. Let’s do that, then we can catch up a little bit and bring on our special guest.
A: The winemakers of Ribera del Duero and Rueda wine regions were locavore, artisanal, and sustainable, long before those terms were trendy. These Spanish wines reflect an ancient tradition and a pure sense of place. They have a timeless appeal that knows no borders. There are many things that make these regions special, one of them being the proliferation of their old vines. In today’s episode, you’ll hear from certified sommelier and Ribera y Rueda’s trade educator Chris Poldoian (this ad just did the intro for me!) about the viticulture traditions of Spain’s top red and white wine regions. Listen in and taste along to discover what makes the priceless heritage of Ribera y Rueda’s old vines so special. A little prematurely, we’re not introducing Chris yet, but now you guys know. Chris, not your time yet, buddy. But at least everyone knows that it’s coming. Zach, before we bring on Chris to talk about Ribera y Rueda, what have you been up to? What have you been drinking? Have you cooked anything cool? Any great experiences? I mean, we’re still in Covid, so it’s not like you went to this great restaurant, but I’m curious.
Z: It’s funny, I was going to say the only cooking thing that I did lately that I’m very proud of — because it did not require any effort on my part. It required a certain acceptance. My wife has been clamoring and desiring a cheese-filled pasta ravioli or tortellini or something.
A: Did you make the TikTok feta pasta?
Z: No, no, no, no. I kept saying no, I don’t want to buy it. I’m going to make it. I finally realized that I like to make fresh pasta, but ravioli is not the thing that’s going to happen. I’ve done it before, and it’s such a pain in the ass so I went to the store. The store near me had a nice local producer. Some of the packages had fresh ravioli on sale. I went in and bought it. We made it last night and it was delicious. I didn’t have to do any work except boiling it. Felt a little bad that I didn’t end up doing it on my own. That was how I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, with ravioli. As someone who worked in the service industry for a very long time, any holiday that encourages overconsumption is not one that I tend to get excited about, but did you do anything for St. Patrick’s Day?
A: I had Guinness. Every time I have Guinness, I forget how much I love Guinness. I had a side of a Redbreast, so Redbreast Irish whiskey. Just a little dram. It went with a kale salad I made. The thing that I was most excited about over the weekend, and I’ve talked about this bar a bunch on this show, was the Rockwell Place, owned by Toby Cecchini, the really famous mixologist. He invented the Cosmo, and he’s had to close the Rockwell Place. The only one he has open right now is the Long Island Bar. He is reopening the Rockwell Place. I’m super excited about that. It’s a few blocks from me. When he first opened it, he had this drink on the menu called the Rare Citrus Margarita. What does that mean? How rare is citrus? Is it going to go extinct?
Z: Am I making it worse by drinking this?
A: Yes, but he would combine a bunch of different citrus juices to make the base of the cocktail. I never knew how he made it. This weekend I got inspired to try and recreate it. On Saturday night, I combine some fresh orange juice, lemon juice, and lime juice. The oranges, at least, were Cara Cara oranges. I felt a little bougie about it. I was bringing in something that felt rare.
Z: It could have been more exotic, though. No pomelo? No Buddha’s hand?
A: It was what was in the fridge. I made it. And he serves it up, which I had never thought about. Margaritas, of course, could be delicious up. Why do we always have to serve them on the rocks? It was just incredible. I had made one and then we did outdoor dining, which was a lot of fun. That was my weekend experience. If you also read the site and the roundups that staff do about the cocktails they’ve been making recently, I may have also used this as my cocktail for this week.
Z: Don’t be mad, Katie.
A: Well, it’s just such a good story to share twice. Anyways, let’s get into it. We’re not talking about cocktails, not talking about St. Patrick’s Day. We’re talking about these two amazing wine regions in Spain: Ribera del Duero and Rueda, which are just wine regions that more people absolutely need to know about. To help us get into all things wine from these two regions, we have Chris Poldoian, who is a certified som and the Ribera y Rueda trade educator. Chris, man, you listened to all the gibberish. First, before we jump into that stuff, what have you been up to? What have you been drinking? How are you doing and where are you?
Chris Poldoian: Howdy, y’all! It’s good to be here. Thanks for having me.
A: Of course.
C: I was in Austin earlier this week doing a trade education for Ribera y Rueda. While I was there, I went to a restaurant called Suerte. I don’t know if you all have heard of it, but it’s this really amazing Oaxacan-style Mexican restaurant that exists in the South Congress area of Austin. It is some fantastic food. I think the prism through which so many people see Mexican food, especially in Texas, is through Tex Mex, which is definitely not what this is. The food was so delicious. I think my highlight of the meal was sweet potatoes that had been smoked, roasted, and topped with lemon aioli and a fuck ton of different herbs. It was so, so good. The wine that we had with it was Bichi Pet Mex, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Bichi wines. I had a chance to go down there during harvest a couple of years ago and see the vineyards, another place with old vines. To me, the ones that are being made in Valle de Guadalupe are some of the most exciting things happening in not just North or South, Central America. I think they’re some of the most exciting ones out there for sure. The Pet Mex has a touch of residual sugar to it. It works super well. That lower effervescence goes so well with that kind of food.
A: Very cool. We don’t have you on to talk about that. Can you give us an overview for these two wine regions’ names? Rueda and Ribera del Duero. Now, some people that listen to the podcast, obviously are familiar with both of them. Others may not be. What can you tell us about both regions? You give us a quick overview before we jump into the conversation?
C: Yeah, when I think about these places, what immediately comes to my mind is in the larger region of Castile y León, and we are in high-elevation mountainous areas. We’re in the Meseta Central and Spain is the second most mountainous region in Europe after Switzerland. We’re talking about an area filled with a very Mediterranean continental climate. That’s what I think of when I think of these places.
Z: Again, people can obviously look this up on a map. They can see where these regions are. In terms of locating us, for people who haven’t had a chance to travel to these regions or even to Spain more broadly, can you point us to the major cities or other places that people might be familiar with?
C: We’re about two hours north of Madrid. North-central Spain is the best way to describe where we are.
A: Are these regions right next to each other?
C: They are there. They’re right next to one another. They’re in that larger region of Castile y León.
A: What are they known for? I know that one is a white wine region primarily and there’s a red wine region. What grapes are they known for, and what style of wine or each of them is known for? Do people who make wine in Rueda also make it in Ribera and vice versa?
C: To get to that first part of it, Ribera del Duero is a region known for red wine. Tempranillo is the main grape of the region, and in Rueda, the main grape of the region is Verdejo. Verdejo makes very crisp wine. In Ribera del Duero, most people think of those big red wines that come from the area. They’re very much sister regions in that sense. To get to the second half of what you were talking about, absolutely. You find a lot of Ribera del Duero producers making Verdejo, that fresh white wine. There’s definitely a complementary element to the two.
Z: When we talk about Tempranillo and we talk about their Verdejo, we are talking about a long history of viticulture, as is true for all of Spain, but also this particular facet of these regions, which is a lot of older-vine material. Chris, can you talk about what is actually there in terms of old vines? Then we can talk a little about how that matters and the resulting wine.
C: Well, I think to talk about old vines in this area, it goes back over a thousand years. This area was the capital of Spain for a very long time. Ferdinand and Isabella got married in the region of Adelheid in 1469. This is the birthplace of modern Spain in a lot of ways, and because of that, a lot of vines were planted in this area after the Reconquista and it was flourishing, it did really, really well. Again, Tempranillo is the indigenous grape of the Iberian Peninsula. Verdejo is also indigenous to this area. Phylloxera comes through and devastates the vineyards. However, a lot of these small villages with very sandy soils were able to survive. Those vines were able to thrive. Now, what we’re noticing is this revitalization with people discovering these very old vineyards that have been around, and we’re seeing really complex wines being made out of these old vines.
A: So let’s jump back. One region makes white wine, one region makes red wine, the white wine region makes it based on Verdejo, the red wine region’s making it mostly based on Tempranillo. Cool. Why should people care? What is it about these wines that make them special and wines that people should seek out, especially if you’ve never heard of this region before or you’re only vaguely aware of it? I’ll give you a clear example. Maybe all you know about Tempranillo is that it comes from another region of Spain that also happens to be very well known to start with the letter R.
C: Like Voldemort? He who must not be named, right?
A: Exactly. What would you think? I just like to keep it a little mysterious. I’m a customer at a restaurant, you’re my somm. Why should I be drinking Rueda or Ribera?
C: I think there’s a lot of different ways to go about that. At the end of the day, you want to drink something that feels authentic, right? To me, what’s so special is that within Spain, at least, Verdejo is the most widely consumed white wine out there. These are regions that have a long viticultural heritage. They’ve been making wine in Ribera del Duero for centuries and centuries, as long, if not longer. To me, as a consumer as well as as a buyer, I’m looking for something new and different that still has that authenticity and has that long tradition of winemaking. I find that to be the case in both of these regions. These are vines that were put in the ground long before it was trendy to make organic wine or low-intervention wine. As a buyer, these wines offer incredible value as well. I know we’re going to talk about that in a little bit, but these are some of the best-value wines out there. Like dollars for donuts, I think these over-deliver.
Z: You mentioned a little of the taste profile of Verdejo, but again, for a lot of people listening, they may not be very familiar. They may never have tried Verdejo or at least not be aware of it. Tempranillo obviously has a little bit more of a profile. What can someone expect? What are some reference points? What are these wines? What should someone expect when they drink them?
C: Let’s say you have a bottle of Rueda. Chances are what’s inside of that bottle is Verdejo. Also, chances are that fruit went through fermentation in stainless steel. A lot of these producers want to preserve that fresh, bright acidity. The best way to do that is to make it in a more reductive environment. Oftentimes, you end up with a really zippy, bright, fresh wine. A lot of producers will have some lees incorporation. They’re ending up with something that’s a little more savory or complex. I think this is a good lateral move for someone if you’re used to drinking Pinot Grigio. Some of those brighter, crisper examples could be a good lateral move from Sauvignon Blanc. For that guest that maybe wants something a little geekier, I think there’s also a Godello element going on here. Something crisp, bright, fresh with that lees-y complexity, for sure.
Z: Cool. You mentioned before that this is one of them. This is the most widely consumed white variety in Spain or is most of what’s being consumed in Spain from Rueda?
C: For the most part, that’s pretty much what you’re seeing. There is Verdejo grown in other areas as well, but this is the dominant grape and dominant region for it.
A: How is the wine normally consumed? What is it consumed with? Is there a specific season that it’s consumed, or is it all year long?
C: It’s Rueda season 51 weeks out of the year, baby. All the time, unless you’re celebrating with sparkling wine around New Year’s. It’s the sort of thing where you ask for white wine, and chances are, what’s being served to you is Rueda Verdejo. In terms of what to eat with it, I can think about it here in Houston. Here, we have a lot of amazing Vietnamese cuisine. To me, all of those fresh vegetable elements that are used, things that are seasoned with lemons or with Thai basil are things that work incredibly well with those like very zippy, citrusy examples. The more savory wines out there, the ones that have extended lees aging or some battonage, those are the ones that go with something a little heavier, maybe something with cream or cheese. In Spain, you eat a lot of roasted vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Goat cheese is a very common thing. Sheep’s milk cheese. Those are things that work really well with these wines.
A: I ask this because my last time in Spain, I didn’t see a lot of vegetables.
C: Potatoes are seen as a vegetable in Spain. It’s the base of the food pyramid over there.
A: Totally. Ribera is a region that some people may be more aware of. I think it’s probably surprising for people to hear that Rueda is the wine that’s consumed much more. Ribera, I think, on the American market is a wine that consumers may have been told produces excellent wine. I think the other bias they may have is that it’s a really expensive region. It is expensive because there are a few producers that are insanely famous and sell wines at exorbitantly high prices. Is Ribera expensive?
C: Nine times out of 10, it is not. I think it’s great that the region does have this recognition with quality, because you do have producers that are making 99, 110 point wines. At the end of the day, that represents such a small percentage of the wine that’s being made in the area. You’ve got over 50,000 acres under vine in Ribera del Duero, but you only have 14 producers that are making more than 75,000 cases a year. You have a lot of very small growers that are making wine. You have a lot of very small producers. Today, you guys tasted a Goyo Garcia, right? That was one of the ones that you tried. A great example of someone who’s working with very old vines and making a small production of wine. He’s a great example of that smaller producer. There are other examples out there. There’s a lot of Crianzas or Cosecha, the fruit that’s maybe not aged in oak for a super-long period of time. That is really just fresh, easy to drink, and those wines are coming in under 30 bucks a bottle. There are even examples out there that are under 20 bucks a bottle.
A: Right. I think I looked the Goyo up, and it was around 20 bucks or something.
C: These are great bistro wines, reds that you can just crack open that don’t need to be decanted over the course of hours. They’re super easy. I don’t know if they’re going to get Instagrammed by NBA players or if they’re going to get a steakhouse for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they’re great wines. They’re super delicious, easy-drinking, and you don’t have to think twice about opening them.
Z: I will say also, as someone with lots of floor experience myself, it’s the other style of Ribera del Duero — whether it’s from more concentrated maceration and winemaking style or what — I’ve always been really pleased with how broad an appeal that wine has. It would be a lie to say that there aren’t a lot of wine drinkers out there who want full-bodied red wines. They are ubiquitous. It was really fun for me to be able to offer people wines, particularly from Ribera del Duero, maybe not at that eye-gouging price point, but not inexpensive wines. Wines that really deliver for a person whose point of reference is not even necessarily other Tempranillo-based wines, but Bordeaux, Cabernet, and Merlot-based wines from California. This is where you get a lot of deeper fruit flavor, blacker fruit than you might see in Tempranillo from other regions, that are a little bit more concentrated. I have not been to this part of Spain, but I hear it’s extreme climatically, both hot and cold. Just in general, wines that are really satisfying to a person whose palate is oriented more towards a full-bodied wine.
C: No, totally. Part of the reason you’re getting that is that there’s been some clonal variation there. The Tempranillo grape itself has adjusted to that really harsh climate in Ribera del Duero. You’re in this high elevation, so the grapes are getting hit with this UV light. The berries are getting jostled around on the vine. The skins over time have developed to become a little bit thicker. They actually call it Tinto Fino or Tinta del Pais. As a result, the wines that tend to be more black-fruited are a little more concentrated than what you find in other parts of Spain. There is that style of making bigger, more robust wines that can go up against a Bordeaux, Napa Cab, something along those lines.
A: I think it was interesting. I heard Alex Lapratt speak recently about Ribera, too, and he was saying he’ll take Riberas to blind tastings. A bunch of people will confuse them for old Bordeaux, which I think is cool. If you’re a listener, those are the kinds of wines you like. To know that a lot of those wines can exhibit those same qualities is super dope. What’s happening right now in the regions? What should people be aware of and be excited about?
C: Yeah, I think — whether you’re studying for sommelier exams or you’re just starting to learn about wine — the first thing that you immediately think of when you think of these places is what’s the aging classification? It’s easy to get caught up in Criazanas, Reserva, Gran Reserva when we’re talking about Tempranillo from Spain. That program of aging certainly exists in Ribera del Duero. We’re slowly seeing a movement away from that and designating villages or designating single-vineyard sites, where we’re moving away from the idea of process and moving more towards how we can best express this grape from this particular site. To me, I think it’s something to look forward to where you don’t have to flip the bottle around or look on the label, try and find whether it says Reserva or Gran Reserva. Instead, you see the village that’s represented or the subregion within Ribera del Duero. The region itself, it’s not a monolith. As you go from west to east, you go up in elevation, you get a change in the soil. I think that’s what we’re starting to see is less of a blend of the overall region and more village-specific sites.
Z: I want to get your opinion on this too, Chris. We talked about some great options for outside-the-box pairing options for Rueda. What about for Ribera del Duero? What are some things that you’ve had success with either eating and drinking yourself or with guests that people should be aware of? Obviously, there are probably great examples of classic Spanish cuisine, but maybe outside of that paradigm.
C: Yeah, totally. Well, I think within Spain with the asador concept, like grilled meat. That’s something we have a whole lot of here in the states, too. When I think of the more concentrated, more dense Ribera del Duero, certainly going for that “slab and a Cab” mentality, getting a big piece of grilled meat goes incredibly well with it, even with steaks. A more aged example of Ribera del Duero could possibly be a dry-aged red meat. Then, for those lighter representations, I think you can also go with something akin to barbecue. We certainly have a fair bit of that here in Texas. When I think of pulled pork, black pepper on brisket, that flavor profile works really, really well, as well.
A: Awesome. Chris, this has been really interesting to learn more about these two regions. I think they’re definitely wines that people should seek out and try more. I feel like you can find them almost everywhere. I know that some people might say, “Oh, I live in a smaller town, or I’m not in a major city.” You’re in Houston, right?
A: They may not have as many choices. Are there any specific producers that people should be on the lookout for who you think are national? If they want to jump into this, how do they jump in? Or where should they go to try some delicious Ribera and Rueda wines?
C: In the case of Rueda, a couple of producers that I think are pretty widely available: Martinsancho is a fantastic producer. The gentleman behind that winery, Angel Rodriguez, was knighted, essentially. He was awarded by King Juan Carlos for saving the grape from extinction back in the ‘70s. Shout-out to Angel for doing what he’s doing out there. That’s a wine that is widely represented across the U.S. Bodega Shaya make some really delicious Verdejo. They actually have an old-vine bottling of Verdejo. Shaya is (S-H-A-Y-A). That one’s fantastic. Marques de Caceres is another good example. Bodegas Naia is one that also specializes in old-vine Verdejos. Those are probably the highlights from Rueda. Within Ribera del Duero, the winery that immediately comes to mind is Tinto Pesquera. Tinto Pesquera is a fantastic winery, one of the iconic wineries of Spain, more in a rustic style, which I think is really nice. That’s one that comes to mind. Another producer that you find pretty available out there is, Dominio del Aguila is a really fun one. Jorge and Isabel Monzón, the people that make those wines are delicious. They make a clarete as well, which is super cool. Not something you see as much of in the market. But the red wine,at least, is top-notch.
Z: I have one last question, Adam. For those of us who are maybe starting to consider traveling, turning those fantasies into reality as the year unfolds. It doesn’t have to be a long discourse about traveling to Ribera del Duero and Rueda, but what is the experience like? Can you give any tips, Chris?
C: Yeah, absolutely. Again, you’re probably going to fly into Madrid, you’re going to get to Barajas Airport. I would rent a car and drive, because it is a beautiful drive. You’re going through this beautiful mountainous area. When you get there, the town of Segovia is the home to suckling pigs. You’re going to eat incredibly well there. The castle in Segovia, the Alcazar, is what they say Walt Disney based his Cinderella castle on. You can check out some amazing castles in the area. They’re eight UNESCO World Heritage sites throughout Castile y León. Whether you go to Salamanca, the oldest university in Spain, you go to Segovia to check out the castle, work your way to Valladolid and Burgos. These are regions where you’re learning the history of Spain as you go through these spots. There are amazing museums, certainly great hiking to be had. No shortage of fun things to do and wineries to check out.
A: Cool. Chris, thanks so much for coming on. We really appreciate you sharing all this amazing information about these two incredible wine regions. We encourage people to go check them out.
Z: We’ll have some notes in the show here about some ways to get your hands on some of these wines that should be good access points for everyone who listens.
C: Cool. Thank you so much for having me on.
A: Of course. Zach, as always, we’ll see you next week.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, then please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or whatever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now, for the credits, VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Wash., by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tasting director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who is instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.