Due north of Madrid, the wine region of Ribera del Duero straddles that river which springs from the hills just south of Rioja and rolls westward all the way to the Atlantic, becoming the Douro River as it crosses into Portugal. In 1989, it was still a sleepy and very dusty backwater famous for two wines, Vega Sicilia and A. Fernandez's Pesquera, and much of the surrounding countryside was empty. Seven years later, the long-held Spanish laws banning irrigation and insisting on the Marco Real method of vine planting were lifted by the EU and, within a decade, Ribera del Duero was one of the most radically changed of all Spanish DOs. On the vast central Castilian plain at 2,500 ft asl, the climate is continental with temperatures that reach the mid-30s C during the day and then can plummet to 6-8 C on late August nights. Although Bordeaux varietals are legal due to the long history of Vega Sicilia, the bulk of plantings here are the resident clone of Tempranillo known locally as Tinto Fino or Tinto del País. The wines are deeply coloured, rich and powerful with a savoury note quite different from nearby Rioja, and despite the boom that has taken place here over the last three decades, quality is remarkably high across the board.
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