Ribera del Guadiana is one of Spain's newest wine regions.  The Extremadura area, which borders Portugal, Andalucía, Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla y León, has a long history of winemaking.  The area's only DO, Ribera del Guadiana, was not established until 1997, when Extremadura's six Vino de la Tierra regions were combined.  Ribera del Guadiana's diverse terroirs and large list of approved grape varieties have given the region's winemakers a lot to work with.  The resulting wines vary greatly in style and quality, but Ribera del Guadiana's winemakers have established a significant goal, to make high-quality wines in the modern style that reflect the uniqueness of Extremadura.

Ribera del Guadiana History

The Romans brought winemaking to the area they called Lusitania, now known as Extremadura.  Archaeologists have discovered wine cups and winemaking equipment from the Roman period; the oldest artifact dates back to about 550 B.C.  A beautiful third-century A.D. mosaic found in Emérita Augusta depicts the ancients' grape pressing process.  The region's monasteries became the medieval winemaking centers, establishing procedures and traditions that continued for many centuries.

The 19th century brought mildew (1845 and 1878) and phylloxera (1868).  Little, apparently, was done to resuscitate the wine industry until after the Spanish Civil War, which ended in 1939.  At that time, growers began to rework their vineyards.  Fortunately, they planted a wide variety of native grapes, including some grown nowhere else in Spain.

Six areas within Extremadura were designated as Vino de la Tierra regions in 1990.  By 1996, work had begun on combining these six VdT regions into one DO.  The necessary regulations were approved in 1997.

Geography, Soils and Climate

Although Ribera del Guadiana is a single DO, the six sub-regions it contains have diverse climates and soils, so it's best to take a look at each sub-region in turn.

• Cañamero, located in northeastern Extremadura, has a mild climate and receives 29.5 to 31.5 inches of rain each year.  Soils are stony.  The area is sheltered by the Guadalupe Mountains.
• Matanegra lies in southern Extremadura.  This sub-region also has a mild climate.  Soils are mostly clay.
• Montánchez, in the region's center, has hot summers and relatively mild winters.  Average rainfalls vary from 20 to 24 inches.  Soils are acidic.
• Ribera Alta, which lies along the Guadiana River, south of the Guadalupe Mountains, has relatively hot summers and mild winters.  Soils are mainly sandy.
• Ribera Baja, the DO's westernmost sub-region, borders Portugal.  Ribera Baja has warm summers and cool winters.  Soils are clay and alluvium.
• Tierra de Barros is Ribera del Guadiana's most important wine-producing area and contains 80 percent of the vineyards in the DO.  This sub-region stretches from Mérida southwest to the edge of the wine region.  Tierra de Barros is very dry, with hot summers.  Rainfall ranges from about 14 to 17 inches per year.  Soils are mostly clay ("barros" means "clay") with some limestone.

Ribera del Guadiana Wine Grape Varieties

Ribera del Guadiana's list of permitted grape varieties is one of the longest and most diverse in Spain.  Pardina is the most widely-planted white wine grape in the DO.  Other permitted white wine grape varieties include alarije, borba, cayetana blanca, chardonnay, chelva (also known as montúa), cigüente, eva (also known as beba de los santos), malvar, moscatel de alejandria, moscatel de gran menudo, parellada, pedro ximénez, perruno, sauvignon blanc, verdejo and viura.

Tempranillo is the most popular red wine grape variety.  Other approved red wine grape varieties include bobal, cabernet sauvignon, garnacha tinta, garnacha tintorera, graciano, jaén, mazuela, merlot, monastrell, pinot noir and syrah.

Visiting Ribera del Guadiana Wineries

Unfortunately, several wineries in Ribera del Guadiana have been hit hard by the economic crisis of 2008 – 2009.  Some, including one of the DO's flagship wineries, Bodega Lar de Barros – Inviosa, have been forced into bankruptcy or have suspended payments to creditors in recent months, apparently because of Spain's credit crunch.  The economic crisis continues to affect the Ribera del Guadiana area as of this writing.

If you are planning a trip to Extremadura, it's best to contact the wineries you wish to visit in advance.  This is a courtesy expected throughout Spain, but in uncertain times, calling ahead becomes even more important.

Bodegas Marcelino Díaz is an offshoot of Bodegas Lar de Barros – Inviosa, run by the same family.  Wines produced here are bottled under the Puerta Palma label.  You can visit the winery on Saturdays if you make advance arrangements.

Bodegas Ruiz Torres dates back to 1870, but this winery has definitely kept up with the times.  The winery features not only modern facilities but also a restaurant, wine shop, wine museum and guest rooms.

Viña Santa Marina is one of the DO's newest wineries, dating back only to 1999.  The vineyard's history, in contrast, stretches back across the centuries to ancient Roman times.  The remains of a Roman villa, including winemaking equipment, were discovered on the winery property. Modern-day visitors can taste and purchase wines at Viña Santa Marina's wine shop.

Another newcomer, Palacio Quemado, is part of the Alvear family of wineries.  In addition to the wines bottled under the Palacio Quemado label, the estate bottles Señorío de Alange wines.  Spanish wine expert Julian Jeffs calls this winery "one to watch."   Tours and tastings are available by advance reservation only.

Ribera del Guadiana's Future

Ribera del Guadiana's winemakers have dedicated themselves to modernizing their wineries and developing their regional brand.  The economic crisis of 2008 – 2009 has had a large, negative impact on these efforts.  Just as the DO was promoting its wines as balanced, modern and of good value, the financial situation in Extremadura and in all of Spain began to change, adversely affecting the wine industry.  Recovery will probably be slow, and some wineries may not survive.

Still, the region as a whole shows much promise.  Ribera del Guadiana has much to offer – unique wine grape varieties, diverse terroir and a large investment in high-tech winemaking equipment, for example.  This young DO can look forward to great things once the effects of the economic crisis are firmly in the past.