By AJ Linn

It is interesting to compare the world’s most valuable brands, as rated by international agencies, with our preconceptions of what we think they should be. Although names like Google (Nº 1), Coca Cola and Apple are undoubted leaders across the commercial board, Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, Toyota, Samsung and McDonalds are not far behind, the dominance of tech items being overwhelming.

Left to our own plans we may opt for San Miguel, Marlboro and pescaíto… Focusing on drinks, Spain’s Torres was voted in 2015 the “World’s Most Admired Wine” Brand, though who actually validated the nomination is not clear. For national listings, Mahou and Cruzcampo are top brands in the Spanish beer market, but when you look at something like the most popular Spanish wine brands in the huge US market Artadi and Marqués de Cáceres lead the pack.

The oddest thing about such rankings is the absence of wines from what is generally considered to be the country’s second most important wine region, Ribera del Duero (literally “the banks of the Duero River”). Admittedly it is not as long established as La Rioja, but many serious wine aficionados rate it as producing Spain’s best. But brands? Well, everyone has heard of Vega Sicilia, misleadingly described as “Churchill’s favourite Spanish wine”, at a time when there were no other Spanish “name” wines on the British market, but how many of us can nominate, for example, three other brands from the region? More difficult than it might at first appear? There are tens of dozens of small wineries producing excellent varieties, and many of them cannot claim any level of recognition, let alone availability for purchase, more than 10 kilometers from their bodegas.

 

It has been shown that wine was made in this area as long ago as a thousand years, but it was not until 1982 that the region was definitively classified and put under the control of a central entity, the Denominación de Origen Ribera del Duero. The term Ribera del Duero was actually the name of what is now the Protos winery, founded as such in 1927, and currently the most important bodega in the area.

REBELLION BY LEADING BODEGAS

However, as is often the case with Spain’s haphazardly-run committees that purport to lay down the law as far as what grapes can be used, and how much wine can be
produced, in 2001 internal disputes relating to the way the region was governed caused a schism (as indeed it did in La Rioja as recently as last year).

It was this very same bodega, Protos, that led a rebellion of 60 bodegas to con-front the Consejo Regulador demanding major revisions to the way it imposed its will on the winemaking community. Balbás, Valduero and Pago de Carraovejas were among the other leading firms that stood shoulder to shoulder with Protos, and the confrontation resulted in the desired changes that today apply to the 200 or so bodegas that produce the region’s excellent wines.

The inward-looking granddaddy of them all, Vega Sicilia, is closed to visitors, but Protos pursues a policy designed to spread the word: 35,000 sightseers a year visit the attractive installations (designed by architect Richard Rogers) and a team of linguists is employed full-time to look after them. Most go on to gawp at Peñafiel, the local town famous for its gastronomic delights, and which receives more than 100,000 tourists annually from all over the globe.

 

Protos wines are exported to 90 countries, and at least inside Spain its position as a leading brand is assured. At the annual “Oscars of Branding”, rating agency SuperBrands puts Protos up there with the likes of Bayer, Campofrio, Repsol and Tuenti, one of the very few wineries to make the cut.

Protos in Greek signifies “primero”, or first, so it is fitting it was the first Spanish winemaker to win several prizes in last year’s China Wines and Spirits Awards. But not altogether surprising. So, starting with what must be one of the greatest value-for-money Spanish whites, we have the Protos Verdejo 2016, from the adjacent Rueda region, costing retail €6.40. For something rather more refined and up there with this country’s great whites, Protos Verdejo Fermentado en Barrica 2015 (€14.15) is one of the new breed of classy barrel-fermented Rueda varieties. Only 4,000 bottles are made annually.

On to the reds, and Protos Crianza 2013 (€15.75) is what can be referred to as a “tranquil” wine, great for everyday drinking. The Protos Reserva 2011 (€26), made from grapes from 50-year old vines, spends 18 months in oak barrels and then gets 24 months bottle-ageing. The remarkable Protos Gran Reserva 2010 (€41) is made only when the harvest is good, and is aged for five years in barrel and bottle before being released onto the market. It is probably as fine an example of a great Ribera del Duero wine as you will ever have the good fortune to encounter, with the possible exception of Protos Selección Finca El Grajo Viejo 2014 (€60). This wine is Protos’s valid declaration of intent to make a “vino del pago”, or a single-vineyard wine, with the intention of exploiting the terroir elements so favoured by French producers. If you are already a Ribera fan you will not need any instruction about Protos. If, on the other hand, you are about to embark on a journey of discovery of Ribera del Duro, use Protos as your benchmark.