Ricardo Peñalba is a dynamic, passionate, and restless young man with not just far too much on his plate but a nagging bee in his bonnet. This is, however, entirely unsurprising for since his father’s untimely death in 2006, he has been at the helm of perhaps the most impressive wine producing estate in Ribera del Duero.
Located on the south western fringe of Aranda del Duero, just two minutes away from the A1 highway that gets you to Burgos in around 40 minutes, Madrid is some 90 minutes due south. This is just as well as his wife, who runs a pharmacy in the capital, and their two small children, live in Madrid as she refuses to live in this relative backwater.
This does not make life easy for Ricardo for the family estate comprises some 400 hectares of which roughly half is forest and half vineyards; and the vineyards – at between 800 and 900 metres above sea-level – comprise about 140 different plots which essentially means an annual harvest lasting around 7 weeks.
Given the impressive diversity of styles produced and the complications, in such an austere part of the world, of ensuring that the family’s 14 different wines (or thereabouts!) offer a certain continuity. In addition, many of the styles produced are organic purely as a matter of principle.
There is, meantime, the family’s excellent hotel to be taken into account. Modern but built in a traditional style, this is universally rated as the top hotel in the area, much favoured by wine trekkies and also hugely popular as the swish local place to get married.
The food is outstanding (best croquettes in the world) and most unusually in this carnivorous part of the world where lechazo and cochinillo hold sway there are always wonderful fresh vegetables in addition, of course, to Castilian specialities (their morcilla/black pudding is mouthwatering).
However, with Ricardo’s
70+-year old mamá Pilar ruling the roost (not only does she insist on personally generating all the company’s invoices and has no qualms in sending rude messages when she feels that pricing is too low, in addition she looks after her own mum aged over 100), it is also up to him to run the hotel. Stressed or what, given that, in addition, he is the convincing family presence that must make the all important export trips?
Bee In Bonnet
The Ribera del Duero DO was only founded in 1982 and has become hugely famous and sought after. Its most prominent offerings are now highly priced thanks to the glitz generated by, for example, Pesquera & Pingus, as a result of their influence with American wine critics.
The other side of the coin has been a giant surge in profiting from the region’s name and so all manner of come-by-night producers are now attempting to cash in.
Finca Torremilanos ultimately outdoes them all in terms of quality, choice and diversity, having started in 1903 on an estate basis thanks to its iconoclastic founder Calixto Seijas and at a time where this mainly Co-op dominated region was selling most of its wine to Rioja, quietly, and in bulk.
Monte Castrillo Tinto 2013
Made purely from youngish (15 to 20-year old) Tinto Fino vineyards, this is dark, effusive, totally approachable fruit-driven stuff with lovely red plum and cherry qualities complimented by just a few months in American oak to give it a little reassuring vanilla.
Los Cantos 2012
Made from a single plot with an overlay of surface pebbles, this is altogether darker and black fruit flavoured with pronounced minerality, more substance, grip and tannin. With 13 to 15 months in mixed American and French oaks and around 5% Merlot.
Some 9,000 bottles of this are made from three low yield centenary vineyards amounting to about 8 hectares, which, says Ricardo, “is an ode to Nature and about the beginning of my dictatorship.” Plush, chocolatey nose, some sweet blackcurrant fruit and minor menthol overtones, rich and with tangy, almost custardy oak, yet relatively gentle, long and savoury.
Torre Albéniz 2009
Black crimson in colour, this is old Tinto Fino with a little Albillo and 24 months in new French oak. Big, lush and exuberantly fruity – pure blackberries – yet pleasingly lively with a most satisfying lightness of touch.
The winery’s flagship from a single 55 hectare block of 50 year old vines. This is opulent, layered, and cedary with a lovely blackcurrant core and elements of toffee, coffee, fig and cocoa. There is 5 to 6% Cabernet in the blend and it spends between 18 and 20 months in 1st, 2nd and 3rd use oak, primarily French. The 2010 is rather tighter and more sinewy and will repay bottle ageing; the 2011 is feminine and immediately drinkable.
Words Carlos Read Photograohy courtesy of Torremilanos