It’s all a little different in Ribera del Duero. Everything seems to swing from one extreme to the other. Buds fearful of common spring frosts don’t break out until May or later, and harvest has to start early to escape more frost by September. Temperatures in the short growing season regularly rise during the day to above 100 with relentless sun and little rainfall, and cool to the 50s at night, while winters are Maine-level frigid.

This is a rough, demanding environment, with no history until recently of a sophisticated wine culture. Nor is Ribera del Duero’s high, desert-like plateau in northern Castilla y León especially picturesque, just mostly barren plains and hillocks punctuated by small towns with relatively little on offer.

Yet it is in this rugged Spanish zone that one of the finest, most complex strains of tempranillo grapes grow, named in the region either tinto fino or tinta del país. The outer and the inner rarely meet in Ribera del Duero, bleak vistas and stripped-down hardscrabble lives belying breathtakingly intense, sultry and low-glowing glamour in the wines.

Great Ribera reds make me feel the way great Brunello di Montalcino makes me feel: warmed to the core, simultaneously formidable and generous, wielding “an iron fist in a velvet glove” as a friend recently put it.

Yet Brunello’s sangiovese grapes grow in one of the most famously picturesque and tourist-friendly places on Earth, while Ribera del Duero cobbles its grandeur from tinta del país vineyards that look like they were raised by wolves from birth. I like thinking about that difference, I like wondering about the mystery of it.

Despite the challenging environment, at this point the Ribera del Duero DO (denominación de origen) is off no one’s radar. A push beginning in the 1980s to produce internationally impressive wines has been extraordinarily successful. RDD (its common acronym) now delivers many of Spain’s most lauded wines, with high point scores, high prices and high interest from the wealthy and the royal to match. In 1982 the area was home to 20 or so wineries; now there are more than 200.

The Bordeaux-strange Vega Sicilia has stunned enthusiasts since the 1870s and still bears the mantle for Ribera, but Pesquero, Pingus and Sicilia’s modernist Alión all help bring the region continual acclaim.

For this reason there’s little need for me to heap on the praise, or even try to convince anyone that we need to discover the wines. In market value, mainstream appraisal and presumed international relevance RDD seems to have eclipsed Rioja as Spain’s leading candidate for greatness.

So I won’t mount any unnecessary entreaties. I’d rather just express my happy surprise that I turn out to like the wines so much – a personal pleasure that seems to encapsulate what makes these wines different, spectrum-spanning, extreme.

These are, for the most part, very big, bold red wines. That’s not really my thing. Neither is the obvious imprint of oak aging, or levels of alcohol above 14 percent, or high extract, all of which are common in the DO and all of which usually conspire toward an imbalanced, initially impressive but eventually exhausting sort of wine.

Your preferences and mine may differ; you may like a concentrated and high-octane style of wine. De gustibus non est disputandum. But I’d still argue that a wine so beholden to style that it submerges the essence of the raw materials in play represents a lost opportunity.

Too many ambitious RDD wines lose for this very reason: one tastes a generically rich wallop of flavor, with excessively ripe fruit and insufficiently developed tannins. It’s understandable that a rough viticultural neighborhood with maddeningly varied soils and therefore unevenly ripening grapes, originally maintained without much sophistication, might in an effort to tame the beast employ oak a bit clumsily. But the old bush vines of tinto fino, filtering that mix of chalky limestone, silt and clay surrounding the Duero river, deserve better.

My quest is for the essence of tinto fino (“fine red”), expressive but lean. I wish I knew how to communicate why I feel this way, but I have some intuitive sense that tinto fino is meant to run clean and high. There should be an initial muscular tension that unclenches with oxygen. A Ribera del Duero should excite rather than impress, should preserve the grape’s inherent precision and purity even as it unsheathes its intense power.

I want the wine rich and meaty, a skein of dark chocolate dripping with cherry. I want the energy to start out potential and then go kinetic, with something silky to cushion the ride. I want the iron fist in the velvet glove, the core of earthy black iron draped in cozy red fruit.

I started out here asserting that Ribera del Duero is different and extreme. I hope to prove it with the two wines mentioned below. Both are delicious, and both seem to express the truth of the region. Yet they are almost comically distinct.

We’ll start with the more classically profiled Valderiz Ribera del Duero 2009 ($31), my lodestar. Organically grown, biodynamically farmed tinta del país on boulder-like river stone soil make up 95 percent of this vintage’s blend, with the remaining 5 percent from albillo (a local white grape).

Half the grapes grow on the traditional low bush vines, and the other half grow in the trellised format favored all over the world. These vines average 25 years old, having been grafted from the 80- to 100-year-old vines that produce this estate’s magnificent flagship wine, the Tomas Esteban. The grapes ferment with only their native yeasts in a 50-50 mix of stainless steel and oak vessels, then the wine ages for two years in majority French oak both new and used, before being bottled without fining or filtration.

It’s a bit rough when first opened, with a smack of plank and bristly tannins. Decant and wait a half-hour, as the wine unfurls. By then, the oak effect has had a chance to move to the background: invisible, yet also essential in how it lets other aspects shine. The tannins grow fine-grained, supporting a gentian astringency and licorice note. Those are soon joined by a kirsch-like envelopment of pure cherry.

This wine is a whopping 15 percent alcohol, yet its satin sheen and poetically integrated brothy, savory flavors never bear even a hint of it. It’s already 5 years old, is lovely now and yet is clearly capable of aging for a long, long time.

Where the Valderiz seems to spring from deep beneath the riverbed, the Finca Resalso 2014 ($14) is a sprightly elf prancing in a meadow. The tinto fino (listed on the label as “tempranillo” in a clear aim for mainstream acceptance) vines are just 5 to 12 years old, and the wine is fermented in stainless tanks before aging only four months in a mix of French and American oak barrels.

This wine’s freshness and vitality are irresistibly charming, almost Beaujolais-like, with intense cherry and strawberry flavors offset by the same subtly medicinal bittersweet bite and spicy edge that are present in the Valderiz and other more serious RDD expressions. The dustiness and meaty character of the region’s wines are here, too, more lightly conveyed than Ribera del Duero’s conventions dictate.

The Finca Resalso is a wine of youth above all, fitting in a sense for a region that is basically only one generation old and still sorting out the ways to balance its authenticity with its verve. Viva la diferencia.

Joe Appel is the Wine Buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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