When master sommelier Brahm Callahan was invited to serve as a brand ambassador for a duo of wine regions in north central Spain, he didn’t hesitate. Soon he was on a plane, eager to refresh his knowledge about the rugged terrain and its winegrowers. “Going there and kicking the dirt makes a big difference,” he says.
While the corporate beverage director of Himmel Hospitality Group (Grill 23 & Bar, Post 390, and Harvest) has long featured bottles from Ribera del Duero and Rueda on the restaurants’ wine lists, his role representing the two Spanish appellations gives him a platform to educate about each DO (denominacion de origen) in the US market. Talking up these pours as “polished and approachable” and excellent with food, the wine pro is happy to share his impressions of a landscape whose lifeblood is the Duero River.
Ribera del Duero, spanning the upper valley defined by that river, is situated on a high plateau a couple hours’ drive north of Madrid. Callahan was struck by the swing in temperatures at these elevations, more than 2,500 feet above sea level. “It was really hot midday, but temperatures dropped to 50 degrees at night,” he says, recalling a trip in September. “That diurnal shift results in grapes that are ripe, but with great acidity.” The tempranillo clones grown here, he explains, are distinct. They sport thicker skins that allow them to thrive in the climatic conditions, resulting in nuanced, deeply hued reds.
The beverage director recommends a 2014 Finca Villacreces “Pruno” to showcase the finesse and value found in Ribera del Duero. He offers it at Harvest, in Harvard Square, for $14 a glass and $50 a bottle. This pour — characterized by ripe berries, plum, and polished tannins — is aged in French oak. He contrasts this with the traditional use of American oak in regions like Rioja, located to the northeast.
Heading downriver past Valladolid, is Rueda, showcasing the verdejo grape. Callahan talks about how wineries here began focusing in the late 1970s on “cleaner, brighter, fresher” styles of the white varietal, punctuated by herb and mineral aromas. While sherry-like fortified versions are also made, most bottles offered in the US are dry, with an emphasis on freshness and fruit.
The partnership between the two wine regions is a novel collaboration. Seeking to make inroads into the US market, the DOs decided to combine efforts and marketing budgets to be stronger together. The push seems to be working, with people like Callahan on board.
“It’s clear they want to put forward a focus on fruit, and also on great minerality,” he says. “It’s a natural relationship.”
Finca Montepedroso Verdejo 2013 This lively white made by fourth-generation vintners offers scents of yellow tree fruit, field herbs, and freshly turned soil, leading to appealing weight in the mouth from time on the lees. Around $18. At Bacco’s Wine + Cheese, Back Bay, 617-574-1751; Bauer Wine & Spirits, Back Bay, 617-262-0363.
Bodegas Vinedos de Nieva “Blanco Nieva de Martue” Verdejo 2015 The Herrero family began restoring once-neglected vineyards on the western edge of Rueda nearly 30 years ago. This pour reflects their efforts, fragrantly peachy with distinct notes of wet stone and a spritz of Meyer lemon. Around $16. At the Wine Emporium, Tremont Street, South End, 617-262-0379; Pairings Wine and Food, Winchester, 781-721-9463.
Bodega la Milagrosa “Milcampos” Vinas Viejas 2014 “Milcampos” translates as “a thousand fields,” so named because the vineyards appear as numerous as the hills on which they are situated. Refined red fruit, understated oak, and baking spice aromas combine with a ripe palate and generous fine-grained tannins. Around $16. At the Wine Emporium, Columbus Ave., South End, 617-536-5545; Bauer Wine & Spirits.
Bodegas y Vinedos Fernandez Rivera “Dehesa la Granja” 2008 Alejandro Fernandez, widely known for his high-tier Tinto Pesquera wines made in Ribera del Duero, makes this pour downriver in Zamora, offering signature craftsmanship at an easy price point. It presents with a savory, umami nose with cherry, spice, and maturity from bottle age. Around $20. At Dion’s, Lexington Street, Waltham, 781-894-1999. Brookline Liquor Mart, Chestnut Hill, 617-734-7702.