2016 has turned out to be a very fine vintage in Ribera del Duero. I have now tasted through a range of different samples and all reveal a good depth of impressively ripe fruit, and most show no loss of freshness. Not all 2016 Ribera del Duero are successful, but to me that is more of a question of winemaking. Some wines can seem fiercely over-extracted, some a touch too heady or overripe and others may reveal too much new oak, suppressing any real expression of the fruit. Then, on the other hand, there are estates like Dominio del Àguila who absolutely nail it; their 2016 Reserva is an outstanding example. Not only does it show impeccably ripe fruit and terrific freshness, it shows complexity and individuality. Simply put, I think I have found a new estate to follow…the 2016 is just so good that I can’t endorse it enough.
While everyone seems to generalise about the climate in Spain as if it were all identical, you cannot discuss Ribera del Duero without mentioning altitude. Ripening grapes at altitudes ranging from 750 to 800+ metres or more is no mean feat. Add to that the fact that frosts can prove a risk in both the early part of the season and at the end and the task is rendered more complicated. I remember the late John Radford, a great ambassador of Spanish wines, commenting that only between the first week of June and the last week of September could a grower in Ribera forget about the risk of frost. Altitude is a fascinating consideration across all winegrowing districts, and even more so given climate change. At the height of summer, temperatures in Ribera del Duero can reach the high 30s but drop by as much as 50% at night. To me, the great wines from Ribera del Duero have the ability to balance riper character traits associated with hotter climates with aromatics and freshness you might associate with cooler areas and that is attributable to this shift in temperatures, which allows the vine some respite. Some estates in Ribera may not have yet settled on their identity, and the potential here is only just starting to be realised. This may sound like an odd thing to say about a region whose fine winemaking origins date back to the mid nineteenth century (when Don Eloy founded Vega Sicilia), but the region was only awarded its Demoninación de Origen in 1982 and new ventures continue to pop up and change perceptions.
Dominio del Àguila was set up in 2010 by partners Jorge Monzón and Isabel Rodero in the small village of La Aguilera, which translates as ‘Eagle’s Nest’, alluding to its positioning perched on top of a steep hill. Jorge comes from a long line of vignerons and has an extensive and impressive CV. After studying oenology in Bordeaux and Burgundy, he spent more than two years working at the famous Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in the Côte de Nuits, before moving back to Spain to work for a year at Vega Sicilia. He spent nine years as technical director of Bodegas Arzuaga-Navarro, where he identified some very old vineyards and, recognising the quality and potential, bought up some sites to start making his own wines. Dominio del Àguila comprises 30 hectares in total, with all vineyards certified organic – Jorge and Isabel are also experimenting with biodynamic practices. The vineyards are old, some over 100 years in age and many are pre-phylloxera. It is this combination of meticulous and attentive farming practices, high altitude sites and appreciation of old vine fruit that sets this estate firmly in the upper echelons of Ribera del Duero producers.
The fruit for the Àguila Reserva comes from some of the estate’s oldest vines planted at around 880 metres. Grapes are hand-harvested and fermented in whole bunches in concrete tanks at cool temperatures, taking 7-8 months to complete fermentation. The wine is then aged in French oak barrels for up to 3 years before bottling. The result is a powerful yet refined wine, not lacking in richness, but with aromatic complexity and incredible poise.
I would like to see this example placed in a blind line-up of the great and the good of Ribera del Duero...I have a sneaky suspicion it would turn some heads when its identity was revealed.
Please see below for my full tasting note as well as a glowing endorsement from Luis Gutiérrez on robertparker.com.