Why Ribera del Duero is perfect for Christmas


A photo of the vineyards of Vega Sicilia, with a village on a hilltop in the background, set amid snow-capped mountain peaks.

Rebecca Lamont has long had a penchant for the beautifully rich, silky wines of Ribera del Duero, a region located just south-west of Rioja in Northern Spain. It’s far lesser known than its famous neighbour, yet it produces powerful, long-lived wines of equally astonishing quality. Here, Rebecca tells us more about why these wines should be on your table this Christmas.

How fast can you say the words Ribera del Duero? Go on, have a go. My friend Amelia can say these words quicker than a stork can snatch your sandwich. Her father Amalio founded the Cillar de Silos winery in Ribera del Duero. Today, Amelia is at the helm along with her brothers Roberto and Oscar. When we attended Oscar’s wedding, all his wines were on tap including the 2019 Torresilo. It went deliciously with everything: local suckling lamb, spicy beef, an enormous paella with jumbo gambas and Galician octopus. Perfect for joyous celebrations.

The idea of celebrating with Ribera del Duero runs deep in my heart. The signature red wine made is just right. It is elegant, rich, smooth and age-worthy, made from Tempranillo juice that’s then matured in French toasty oak barrels. It’s also a style of wine that’s incredibly food friendly. These wines are structured like Bordeaux, but a touch richer; perfumed like Burgundy, but a touch more brooding; smooth like Rioja, but a touch sultrier. There is something to please everyone.  

Come Christmas Day, we will be on a Caribbean beach drinking Foursquare Spiced Rum. So, to please our clan, we’re celebrating Christmas a week early. On our equivalent of Christmas Eve, we’ll be tucking into a clove-and-clementine-studded gammon. I just know this silky, juicy Ribera del Duero from Bodegas y Viñedos Alnardo will be absolutely perfect. The dense fruit will act as a sauce and will effortlessly cope with the spice. It also offers fantastic value, especially from a winemaker as lauded as Peter Sisseck.  

For the main event – Christmas Day itself – I’m after a particularly praiseworthy vinous pleasure. And I’m asking myself, will I finally open my cherished bottle of 1981 Vega Sicilia? It’s the best wine I have ever tasted. When I took my first sip back in 2001, I was flabbergasted that a wine could taste like this: smooth, rich, deep, luxuriating in a weave of spices; spiralling patterns of tobacco, cedar, toast, and sonorous dark fruit. Extremely nuanced, it was my first real wine love. My Mum bought me this bottle for the following Christmas – it’s very special and I don’t want to let it go. I still haven’t opened it.  

Have you also got a bottle tucked away with a special sentiment attached? Mine is now 42 years old and it will be a miracle with our roast turkey – but I may chicken out and say let’s save it so I can keep the memory going. In that event, I’ll have this 2019 bottle from Bodegas Alión instead – a dark, silky stallion that’ll bring appreciative oohs and aahs alongside the fun and the goodies, I’ll bet. 

So, within the context of our premium region, there is much to adore and understand. I suggest you put Ribera del Duero on your travel wish list in 2024. We stayed in Amelia’s local town, Lerma, in the former 17th-century ducal home, now Parador De Lerma Burgos, complete with a stork in the tower. It was amazing. It has a magnificent position at the head of the square, which is vast for the size of the town. Seek out Asador Casa Antón, tucked away at the other end of the square. It’s one of those unique family restaurants going back generations – the sort that you dream of, with the best local specialities. 

We had travelled to Lerma from Llanes, in the northerly green part of Spain. We left early and drove up through the whopping Picos Europa Mountains, reaching 850 metres altitude. Suddenly, it’s like stepping into a new world the other side: bright blue skies, honey brown earth, arid scrublands of wild thyme, chamomile, lavender and fennel, their perfume wafting amid the dust whipped up by car tires. No wonder the grapes are ripe with aromatic complexity. The grapes are getting the chance to cool down at night under the starry evenings, even in August. Spot the signature zarceras – traditional stone wind vents poking out from the ground – dotted all about the landscape. They’re especially present at Cillar de Silos, resembling giant beehives that belie underground cave networks where wine was often fermented. Yes, adventure and investigation beckons. 

And when I next see you and you tell me which wine you chose for Christmas – the first thing we are going to find out is who can say Ribera del Duero faster, without sounding like we enjoyed a glass too many. 

Browse the wines of Ribera del Duero here