Rioja is famous but then so are the regions of Priorat, Toro, and of course, Ribera Del Duero. This time around, I managed to take the convenient 2-hour bus-ride from Madrid to Aranda de Duero, the regions non-political capital, also famous for its ancient labyrinthine underground tunnels which are used even today to store wines.I didn’t get around seeing them but I get myself to Valduero for a quick visit. If four hours is quick that is.Although in terms of terroir some purists consider Burgos more important than Valladolid, the general trend is to prefer the latter as it has the weightier names behind it. Being upstream the climate is a lot more continental whereas Valladolid is more humid. The difference would show up in the hang-time for each region.Segovia, the third, is less known. And then the fourth one, Soria, the highest in altitude but has barely one house of importance.The plantations here at Valduero are mostly low bush plants. 1 bush = 1 bottle of wine. Low yields are a Spanish thing, in spite of having large vineyard areas they still produce less wine than others. The idea has always been to preserve the traditional methods and work in accordance with nature,Ribera del Duero ageing requirements are as follows: Crianza (1+1) Reserva (1+2) Gran Reserva (2+2) the first figure is for oak and the second for bottle ageing.Valduero is a lovely house. May not be the most picturesque, given that today people get major architects to do up their buildings but it is honest, sincere, and practically efficient. However it was one of the few houses to make bottled wines 25 years ago in the region, when little existed outside of the bulk cooperative business. The labels all have a painting which was done by a famous artist who chose to be paid in wine as opposed to cash. La Fondacion de Castillo y Leon owns the works. Vela Zanetti was the artist. Among his other works, a mural titled “Mankind’s Struggle for a Lasting Peace” adorns a wall of the UN office in New York.The one thing I liked during this tasting-visit was that that alcohol never showed heavily in the wines. Sure this is Spain and hot climate and 14% alcohol, but it was well integrated into the structure. All their wines mirror what was on the mind of those who made the wine. No mixing of ideals or standards. They have chosen to remain classic in their approach and yet friendly and exciting.Albillo 2010 (White):The only regional white. Still doesn’t have an appellation but growing. Albarino and Rueda mix of sorts: tropical fruits, rich and ripe, pears and mangoes, some citrus fruit with green apples; the palate is light and crisp. The finish is delicately dry and terse, almost as if in contrast to the burst of fruit on the nose. Good mineral character as well. This is a good grape to watch out for.Rosado 2010 (Red):The authentic wine of RdD. The colour is obtained by mixing Tempranillo (Red) with Albillo (Whites), grapes, not must. Which explains the rich and corpulent redness of the wine, more a clarette than a rose. Meaty rich fruit, almost a closed nose, reserved, the palate is bone dry. Not the friendliest fruity wine you would imagine but with food this could work great. Not made to daunting proportions of extraction or weight, this is a good wine for casual consumption.Rioja Rincon de Navas 2008 Crianza Bodegas Valgrande (Red):15 months of barrique. The nice meaty-toasty nose that greets hints at that. Else, a nice light ruby robe, bright, the aromas are typical Tempranillo. From leather and meaty notes to hints of tobacco, the mouth is soft and reflects similar notes. Light and balanced, it is still a serious wine with good mouthfeel. Great for the 14 Euro price tag. Rioja ageing rule (1+1)Rioja Rincon de Navas 2006 Reserva Bodegas Valgrande (Red):18-25 months, depending on the year. A rich deep wine, similar as the Crianza but with more complexity and silky richness on the midpalate. The coffee-liquorice notes towards the finish make for an elegant subtle fade, taking away from the otherwise meaty edge. Rioja ageing rule (1+2)Toro makes stronger wines, more distinct, unlike Rioja, which is more versatile with food and company. Being lower down the river makes it a hotter region. Hence the fruit is more luscious and ripe and can be astringent when young. But it is one of the top 4 regions of Spain. Afte rMauro and Vega Sicilia, they are the third to be there. Maybe even second, before Mauro.Arbucala Esencia 2008 (Red):Modern and fruity in style. Light ruby shade, violet hints, good ripe berry character, cloaking tannins, good grip and a short but easy finish. Simple, solid. Good by-the-glass.Arbucala Esencia oak-aged 2007 (Red):A soft toast on the nose, spice and fruit linger alongside on the palate which is marked by good persistence of flavour and bite, and all leads on to a lovely not-too-long dry-spiced and hint-fruit compote finish. Never jammy, very restrained, great Tempranillo performance yet very internationally appealing. About 11 Euros. Great!Arbucala “SPECIAL” 2006 (Red):2 ha of mountainous vineyards. High end but not something you have to lock away for the next ten years. It shows strength and potential but most importantly, it shows balance of structure and flavour and thus comes across as I must have liked this wine, why else would I manage to sit straight through a long tasting and manage to get a drop of this on my off-white trousers if not to take it back with me.Valduero RdD Crianza 2007 (Red):15months in oak, the wine is all about restrained elegance and delicate fruit-oak balance. The mouthfeel is very appealing, all about ripe fruits and the oak is well-integrated and doesn’t stand out. Great easy drink. Again, the finish is drop-dead gorgeous, especially marked by its gradual fade.Valduero Reserva 2005 (Red):A deep robe, toasty-jam on the nose, spiced and ripe, again the fruits do not once leave your side, from nose to palate to finish, good tannins but never bitter, the ripeness is beautiful as also the acidity. All about elegance and with a long, lasting, and almost operatic finish. (*)Valduero “Unacepa” Reserva 2007 (Red):This one is more about Terroir and yet they claim it to be their “slightly modern style”, (with low yields, 1500 kilos/Ha). Modern here, I find on tasting, doesn’t imply shameless jammy extraction in the wine. There is still maintained an elegant quorum of subtlety and balance of fruit and oak in the wine. Oak, for that matter, is mostly hidden, if not intentionally subdued by the fruitiness which exhibits not just great flavour but also supporting acidity and a heady mix of spice-liquorice-rich cocoa. (**)Valduero Reserva Premium 2004 6 años(Red):The owner’s preferred wine. A very classic expression what hits me first is the fact that although 6 years old, there is no way of telling so on the palate or nose. Suave is the word thrown around and it sticks, fruity mild cherries and hint-spiced strawberries but not simply so, complex; in fact, the lightness of the wine almost doesn’t allow one to realise the weight behind the façade. Super well balanced. Still young. 36 months in oak, and 3 years in bottle. 4 types of oaks used on this one. 40 Euros or so. A Thinking wine… (*)Valduero Gran Reserva 2001 (Red):4 years in oak, and then in 6 in bottle. How’s that for patience!?! The nose is tight, some oak peeps through, the palate shows a glimpse of the potential contained. The style is always restrained and reserved: far from flamboyant, this is all about elusiveness. The wine is still young and yet manages to show a fruity side, the tannins show no sign of fatigue and yet don’t show up at all on the palate. It is a very well-orchestrated wine. (**)Gran Reserva 1998 12 Años (Red):Way beyond the required ageing time, this is a big wine, and when I say big, I mean biiiiig! And yet the humility of this wine is stupendous. The colour or nose don’t once betray the age, playing on fruit and spice. Some figs and pickle and dry spice character hint at an older wine but maybe that is purely because I saw the label prior to the tasting. Else, little gives away the potential that is this wine. Could be anything around 200 Euros in certain shops.On the whole an intoxicating visit!