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2010 Pesquera, Crianza, Bodegas Alejandro Fernández
Alejandro Fernandez established Pesquera Bodega in Ribera del Duero in 1972 and has been hugely influential in the resurgence of this important wine-producing region. Without any formal enological education or training, he started his bodega as a second career and, against all odds, won international acclaim. By the early 1980s, Pesquera had forced the official Spanish wine organizations to re-write the rules, and Ribera was granted official D.O. status in 1982. By the late 1980s, the bodega was having a cult following in the United States and gathered much praise from critics, including a feature story in Parker's Wine Spectator. In 2008, Spain's Ribera del Duero region will join the ranks of Rioja and Priorat by receiving an upgraded status to Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa).
Named after his hometown, Pesquera now has 65 hectares of vineyards superbly sited on well-drained south-facing gravel banks. The region's high altitude (2,000 to 2,500 feet above sea level) and continental climate are major quality factors. Hot days drive the grapes' sugar content up, while cold nights maintain acidity high, resulting in concentrated, fleshy wines. Vine diseases and rain at harvest are rare in this extreme continental climate, a fact that allows Fernandez to harvests slowly and late, to achieve optimum ripeness and balance.
The wines are made from 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) grapes. In traditional Rioja winemaking, Tempranillo has become known for its elegance, while in Ribera del Duero, and particularly in Pesquera wines, it stands for deep colours, lush, ripe fruit flavours and power, with plenty of smoky oak influence. Long macerations (up to 26 days) increase extraction of colour and tannin. The Crianza wines are matured in a mixture of French and American oak barrels for 20-24 months, while the Reservas and Gran Reservas spend a minimum of 30 months in small oak barriques. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Success continues for Fernandez with a second property in his Ribera del Duero portfolio; Condado de Haza has 200ha of Tempranillo vines planted in 1989. Since 1995 it became a complete and self-sufficient winery encompassing the whole winemaking process from the vine to the bottle.
A high quality red wine grape that is grown all over Spain except in the hot South - it is known as Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero, Cencibel in La Mancha and Valdepenas and Ull de Llebre in Catalonia. Its spiritual home is in Rioja and Navarra where it constitutes around 70% of most red blends.
Tempranillo-based wines tend to have a spicy, herbal, tobacco-like character accompanied by ripe strawberry and red cherry fruits. It produces fresh, vibrantly fruit driven "jovenes" meant for drinking young. However Tempranillo really comes into its own when oak aged, as with the top Riojas where its flavours seem to harmonise perfectly with both French and American oak, producing rich, powerful and concentrated wines which can be extraordinarily long-lived.
In Ribera del Duero it generally sees less oak - the exception being Vega Sicilia where it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and then aged for an astonishing 7 years in oak and is unquestionably one of the world`s greatest wines.
In the last 30 years, Ribera del Duero has emerged from almost nowhere to challenge Rioja for the crown of Spain's greatest wine region. Once known only as the home of Vega Sicilia it now boasts numerous bodegas of outstanding quality like Pesquera, Alion and Condado de Haza. Ribera del Duero was granted its DO status in 1982, at a time when only nine bodegas were operating there, yet today it has over 170 wineries and more than 18,000 hectares of vines. Most of Ribera del Duero's production is red, with only a modest quantity of rosado produced. No white wines are allowed under the DO.
Ribera del Duero owes its success to a combination of factors: firstly, its terroir of schistous sub-soil bears remarkable similarity to other famous winemaking regions such as the Douro and Prioratot. Secondly, its microclimate, with its high altitude, hot days and cool nights (a phenomenon known as ‘diurnal variation’), ensures ripeness while preserving the vivacity of the fruit, aromatic flavours and refreshing acidity.
Thirdly, it has been blessed with an exceptional native grape, Tempranillo (also known as Tinto del País or Tinto Fino). This yields superb, complex red wines that are delicious when young but which also have the capacity to age into magnificent Gran Reservas. Finally, the immense influence of its winemakers has been key – historically, of course, Vega Sicilia, but more recently Alejandro Fernández, the founder of Pesquera.
Fernández has been at the forefront of the viticultural and winemaking revolution here since his arrival in the late 1970s. The initial breakthrough of his wine Pesquera, so lauded by Robert Parker, saw Tempranillo blended with a little Cabernet Sauvignon, thus injecting further zest and structure into this already fruity wine. Even if most winemakers now use the traditional 100 percent Tempranillo, Fernández's determination to experiment and question has been an inspiration to all.
The same DO rules govern Ribera's barrel-aged styles as for Rioja: Crianzas are aged for two years before release with at least a year in oak barrels; Reservas must be three years old with at least a year spent in oak; and, finally, Gran Reservas must be five years old before going on sale, with two years spent in barrel. The young (joven) unoaked red wines, called Roble, tend to boast a moreish, vibrant, bramble fruit while the best oak-aged styles of Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva show intense, generous fruit, overlaid with notes of vanilla and sweet spice, and wrapped up in polished, elegant tannins.
Recommended producers: Vega Sicilia (including Alion), Alejandro Fernández (Pesquera, Condado de Haza), Pago de los Capellanes, Pingus