Remebering Alejandro Fernández, whose Tinto Pesquera wines helped make the reputation of Spain’s Ribera del Duero region
This weekend, Alejandro Fernandez, the founder of Pesquera, died aged 88. He was an important figure in establishing Ribera del Duero as one of Spain’s (and the world’s) top wine regions.
He began his career, and made his money, selling and building beet harvesters. After leaving school at 12 and experiencing the drudgery of hand harvesting sugar beet – which was the major crop in the region – he invented a mechanical harvester. The patent for his design made him quite a bit of money, and he spent it on a vineyard. In 1972, with his wife, Esperanza Rivera, he purchased land in Pesquera del Duero just west of Vallodolid. At the time there was only one winery of note in the region: Vega Sicilia. There were lots of vineyards, but there was no DO – that was to come later, in 1982.
The first Tinto Pesquera wine was released in 1975, and Alejandro’s approach was to emphasize the wonderful fruit intensity that the high-altitude vineyards with lots of limestone in the soils were capable of making. Winemaking was traditional: hand harvest, put grapes whole bunch into a lagar, then foot tread and ferment, then go to small American oak for maturation. The first release of the special cuvée Janus was in 1982, and in 1985 American critic discovered the Pesquera wines, dubbing the winery as the Petrus of Spain. This created a huge splash internationally, and helped establish the reputation of this new DO.
There’s a beautiful segment on Alejandro in Jancis Robinson’s BBC series on wine, which you can view here.
Pesquera is a big project, with 200 hectares of vines. There’s quite a bit of variation across the estate, and now there are a number of wines being made, including the Crianza, Reserva, Janus and Gran Reserva Millenium.
In 1995 a second winery, Condado de Haza, was opened. This is based on 160 hectares of vineyards in Burgos, where the soils are mainly sandy clay. This is a flatter vineyard that’s a bit more consistent. The Fernández Rivera family also own two other wineries: Dehesa La Granja (in Zamora) and El Viculo (in La Mancha).
The last few years of Alejandro’s life were marred by a family feud. He separated from his wife, who had a majority shareholding, and three of his daughters and Esperanza took control of the business. Now it is in the hands of three of his grand daughters, who have run things since 2019.
Alejandro’s legacy is a strong one, though: he has been a major force in shaping the current direction of this major wine region.
Tinto Pesquera Crianza 2018 Ribera del Duero, Spain
14.5% alcohol. This spends 14 months in American oak. Nicely aromatic with black cherry, berries and some spicy woody notes. There’s a sweetness to the fruit, nicely framed by some cedar and coconut from the oak, which integrates pretty well. Has quite a seductive quality to it, but the fruit remains the main focus, with some chocolatey overtones to the vivid raspberry and blackberry fruit. Very stylish, with good ageing potential. 93/100 (UK retail £27 Roberson)
Tinto Pesquera Crianza 2016 Ribera del Duero, Spain
American oak, 60% new. Sweetly aromatic: very fine with some vanilla and cedar notes. Has a sleek quality to the ripe black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Sleek, sweet and polished with lovely intensity. Very stylish. 94/100
Tinto Pesquera Reserva 2016 Ribera Del Duero, Spain
14% alcohol. This is concentrated and dense with sweet blackberry and black cherry fruit with a lovely sleek core, but also substantial structure cloaked in the fruit. There’s some spicy vanilla oak here, but it plays a supporting role and the fruit weaves in and out of it. Lovely focus and concentration, and there’s a lot of potential for further development. 94/100 (UK retail c £30, Majestic, Highbury Vintners)
Pesquera Gran Reserva Milennium 2009 Ribera del Duero, Spain
This is only made in special vintages. So far that means just 1996, 2002, 2004, 2008 and this one. It’s also the only Pesquera wine aged in French oak, as opposed to American. Grapes from a single plot at 900 m, with 30 months in barrel. Concentrated, lush and sweet with bold, warm black cherry fruit with some richness. Rich, softly textured, warm and exotic with nice depth. So concentrated, lush and generous. 94/100
Condado de Haza 2015 Ribera del Duero, Spain
First vintage 1994, production 500 000 bottles, 14.5% alcohol. American oak. This has lovely spiciness under the sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit. Very rich and ripe, but with a sense of freshness, too. Lovely floral overtones with some brightness and focus. 93/100
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