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Ribera whites herald new era

Published:  08 October, 2019

Spain’s Ribera del Duero wine board has authorised DO (Denominación de Origen) status for white wines.

The historic move is a victory for local vintners who have waged a lengthy battle to rescue the indigenous grape variety Albillo Mayor from near extinction.

Until now producers making white wines in Ribera del Duero had to opt for labelling bottles as table wine or PGI wine.

But many of them have shown how a minor indigenous grape can play a major role in producing world class, terroir-driven white wines with ageing ability.

The Ribera del Duero DO wine board made its first official presentation of a range of young and aged Albillo Mayor white wines yesterday, at Gastronomika, the world food and drink congress, held in the Basque city of San Sebastian.

It heralded the new status for white wines as “a new era" for Ribera del Duero.

“Ribera del Duero producers will be able to label the white wines made from Albillo Mayor as DO wines as from November this year, as long they abide to rules established by the wine board, ” a spokeswoman from the Ribera del Duero wine board told Harpers.

“Authorisation for Ribera whites is about protecting the existence of Albillo Mayor and meeting the demands of producers who for years have been researching this variety and using it to make white wines,” she said.

Under the newly approved DO rules young, crianza and reserva white wines will have to be made 75% from Albillo Mayor.

Around 30 producers are now making singular terroir-driven Albillo Mayor white wines from old vines planted at elevated sites in Ribera del Duero.

Albillo Mayor, a parent of Tempranillo, is a grape known for its higher acidity levels than its sister grape Albillo Real found in the region of Madrid.

Local producers in Ribera del Duero have shown how the grape is resistant to climate change and drought.

“The Albillo Mayor grape expresses the limestone soil much better than the reds. The reds are actually more about the use of skins and stems in fermentation, than expressing the soil,” said Jorge Monzón, Ribera del Duero producer at Dominio del Alguila.

Until recently, Albillo Mayor has played a complementary role for production in blends, with Ribera del Duero giving priority to red wine production.

The strategy benefitted Verdejo white wine producers in the neighbouring Rueda DO. Ribera del Duero is home to about 500 hectares of Albillo Mayor whose vines have an average age of 50 years the Ribera del Duero wine board said.

“Albillo Mayor once made up about 30% of vines in Ribera del Duero, but due to commercial pressure from businessmen and demand for Tempranillo wine, they were grubbed up. Fortunately, we have maintained some old Albillo Mayor vines,” Monzón said.

His sophisticated and structured Burgundy-style blanco Albillo viñas viejas wine is distributed in Britain by Indigo wines.

Monzón is one of the wine producers who will be present at the forthcoming third edition of the Viñateros tasting of new wave Spanish wines, which takes place at Lindley Hall in London, on February 25th, 2020.