Monday, June 28, 2010

The Wines of Bodegas Epifanio Rivera in Spain

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Epifanio Rivera of Bodegas Epifanio Rivera

I joined Epifanio Rivera of Bodegas Epifanio Rivera for a tasting of his wines at Addy Bassin’s MacArthur Beverages in Washington DC.

Wine Producer Spain

Located on the Iberian Peninsula, Spain has over 2.9 million acres (over 1.17 million hectares) planted. It is with Italy and France in the leading trio of wine producing nations. In terms of consumption, Spain is 9th worldwide with Spaniards drinking, on average, 10.06 gallons (38 liters) a year.

History of Winemaking in Spain

Wine growing and making began many centuries ago, even log before the Romans came. During the Roman Empire, Spanish wine was widely exported and traded. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, under the Moors, Islamic dietary laws that forbid the use of alcohol, prevailed. In the wake of the Spanish Reconquista in 1492, Bilbao emerged as a large trading port. Spanish wines became popular in England.

Christopher Columbus discovered the New World under the sponsorship of the Spanish crown. This opened up a new export market as well as new opportunity for wine production. Spanish missionaries and conquistadors brought European grape vines with them. During this period, Spanish wine exports to England began to wane as Spanish-English relations steadily deteriorated following the divorce of Henry VIII of England from his Spanish wife Catherine of Aragon. The 17th and 18th centuries saw periods of popularity for various Spanish wines-namely Sherry, Malaga and Rioja wine.

A major turning point occurred in the mid 19th century when the phylloxera epidemic ravaged European vineyards-most notably those of France. With the sudden shortage of French wine, many countries turned to Spain. Phylloxera eventually reached Spain, devastating regions like Malaga in 1878 and reaching Rioja in 1901. But by the time the Spanish wine industry felt the full force of phylloxera, the remedy of grafting American rootstock to the European vines had already been discovered and widely utilized. The end of the 19th century also saw the emergence of Spain's sparkling wine industry with the development of Cava in Catalonia. The late 1970s and 1980s saw periods of modernization and renewed emphasis on quality wine production. Spain's reputation entering the 21st century was that of a serious wine producing country that could compete with other producers in the world wine market.

Wine Classification

The five-tier classifications, starting from the bottom, comprise:

• Vino de Mesa (VdM) - These are wines that are the equivalent of most country's table wines.

• Vinos de la Tierra (VdlT) - This level is similar to France's vin de pays system, normally corresponding to the larger comunidad autonóma geographical regions and will appear on the label with these broader geographical designations like Andalucia, Castilla La Mancha and Levante.

• Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada (VCPRD) - This level is similar to France's Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS) system and is considered a stepping stone towards DO status.

• Denominación de Origen (Denominació d'Origen in Catalan - DO)- This level is for the mainstream quality-wine regions which are regulated by the Consejo Regulador who is also responsible for marketing the wines of that DO. Nearly two thirds of the total vineyard area in Spain is within the boundaries a DO region.

• Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa/DOQ - Denominació d'Origen Qualificada in Catalan)- This designation, which is similar to Italy's Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation, is for regions with a track record of consistent quality and is meant to be a step above DO level. Rioja was the first region afforded this designation in 1991 and was followed by Priorat in 2003, and Ribera del Duero in 2008.

The three most common aging designations on Spanish wine labels are Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.

• Crianza red wines are aged for 2 years with at least 6 months in oak. Crianza whites and rosés must be aged for at least 1 year with at least 6 months in oak.

• Reserva red wines are aged for at least 3 years with at least 1 year in oak. Reserva whites and rosés must be aged for at least 2 years with at least 6 months in oak.

• Gran Reserva wines typically appear in above average vintages with the red wines requiring at least 5 years aging, 18 months of which in oak. Gran Reserva whites and rosés must be aged for at least 4 years with at least 6 months in oak.

Wine regions

Major Spanish wine regions include the Rioja and Ribera del Duero which is known for their Tempranillo production; Jerez, the home of the fortified wine Sherry; Rías Baixas in the northwest region of Galicia that is known for its white wines made from Albariño and Catalonia which includes the Cava and still wine producing regions of the Penedès as well the Priorat region.

Picture: Spain's Wine Regions

Grape varieties

The country has an abundance of native grape varieties, with over 600 varieties planted throughout Spain though 80 percent of the country's wine production is from only 20 grapes—including Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha, Palomino, Airen, Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel•lo, Cariñena and Monastrell.

Tempranillo is the second most widely planted grape in Spain and is an important grape in the Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Penedès regions. The most widely planted grape is the white wine grape Airén, served as the base for Spanish brandy.


Sherry is a fortified wine produced in southern Spain. It can either be sweet or dry, unlike Port. Port wine is made sweet by adding alcohol to the fermenting must so the fermentation stops and the sugar of the grapes remains in the wine. What you get is a wine with lots of alcohol and remaining sweetness in the wine. Sherry, on the other hand is made by letting the fermentation go its full way so that a dry wine emerges. Then, alcohol is added to boost the alcohol level. If the winemaker stops there, you get a dry Sherry. If he also adds sterilized juice, you get a sweet Sherry. Thus, Sherry can be sweet or dry.


Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine made in the traditional method of the Champagne. Mostly, white grape varieties like Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel•lo are used for Cava, though some producers are experimenting with the use of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Ribera del Duero

Ribera del Duero is one of several wine-producing regions along the Duero river. It is home to the world-famous Vega Sicilia and Tinto Pesquera wines. The Denominación de Origen of Ribera del Duero was established in 1982 and upgraded to Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) in 2008, which made it Spain's third DOCa after Rioja and Priorat.

Wines in the Ribera del Duero DOCa are almost exclusively from red grapes. The Albillo grape is the only white variety grown, mostly destined for local consumption. The vast majority of production is dedicated to Tinto Fino (the local name for Tempranillo).

Bodegas Epifanio Rivera

Bodegas Epifanio Rivera, established by the Rivera-Aparicio family, is an old Bodega. The ancient underground cellar dates from the 16th century. All the vineyards are located in the Pesquera de Duero. The vineyards total over 20 hectares. Some of the vineyards are over 80 years old. The new winery has a capacity for 100,000 bottles. The harvesting is done by hand; the grapes are collected in boxes of 20 kilograms to ensure a careful selection. Fermentation is done with strict temperature control. The tanks are shallow and very wide in order to extract the best tannin. The chambers where barrels and bottles are placed for ageing are thermally controlled, so as to accurately reproduce the conditions in the old underground wine cellars.

What We Tasted

Bodegas Epifanio Rivera (Ribera del Duero)

2007 Erial US$ 19.99
2006 Erial TF US$ 43.99

Erial is made from 100% Tinta Fina. Ageing in barrels, of which 80% are French oak and 20% are American oak, is 10 months. Lively and colorful wine that is open and clear in the nose; with sterling mature blackberries, black liquorice, and mineral reminiscences; with creamy and smoky tones from the oak wood; and a spicy finish. Neatly structured in the mouth, with friendly and well-melted tannin, beefy and concentrated fruit, extremely tasteful, balanced and with a refreshing sensation due to an appropriate acidity.

Erial Tradicion Familia Rivera-Aparicio (Erial TF) is aged for 16 months in oak barrels consisting of French oak (85%) and American oak (15%) and is designed with a different selection of grapes than Erial. The source of the grapes are 80 years old vines located in Pesquera de Duero area. It is 100% Tempranillo grape variety. The color is deep purple, bright and clean. The nose is very intense with lots of ripe fruits such as plums and figs, balsamic and spice aromas such as eucalyptus, clove, white pepper, and black ink. Very complex and well integrated with the oak. On the palate is concentrated and long. Great balance between fruit, acidity and silky tannins.

Bodegas Epifanio Rivera

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  1. Thank you for your post. It is important for us and for spanish wine too. It looks like very complete.

    Best regards,

  2. The delicious, rich wine is known both by the
    names of Sherry and Jerez.Thanks for this post.