By Jonathan Cristaldi
The Spanish workhorse of premium red wines is none other than the illustrious Tempranillo grape, which by any other name—and it has many—is still Tempranillo.
In La Mancha and Valdepeñas it is commonly called, “Cencibel,” while in Catalonia it goes by, “Ull de Llebre,” but in Ribera del Duero it is known as “Tinta de País” or “Tinto Fino,” however Toro calls it, “Tinta de Toro” and in Madrid it goes by, “Tinto de Madrid[.”
Traditionally planted and maintained as low bush-vines in Rioja’s moderate-climate region, Tempranillo grapes give way to full and medium-bodied reds, with medium acidity, tannins and red fruit flavors, often blended with Garnacha—which supplies high alcohol along with spicy notes. Further south, in Ribera del Duero, Tempranillo grapes produce wines with darker fruit character, richly dense, with toasty oak notes, often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Beyond these regions and the whole of Spain, Tempranillo plantings appear in Portugal, France’s Languedoc region, as well as in parts of the U.S.—Washington state, Oregon and in California.
In 1982, Robert M. Parker Jr. compared a reputable wine from Ribera del Duero to Château Pétrus and since then, interest in Tempranillo has been steadily climbing. By the 1990s, growers in the United States were toying around with Tempranillo, trying to see if a quality wine could be produced from the grape in America. By the late 1990s, Tempranillo wines produced in California were taking home gold medals—thus answering the question. In the early 2000s, Earl Jones, a grower from Oregon, began a movement, which culminated in 2006 with the formation of the Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society (TAPAS), a nonprofit dedicated to “promoting Tempranillo and other varietal wine grapes native to the Iberian Peninsula, and wines produced from them in North America.”
I first tasted a domestically produced Tempranillo while visiting Longoria Wines in Los Olivos, California back in 2012. My initial reaction was embarrassingly typical: I thought they were crazy. However, it ended up being one of my favorites of the day – a lovely wine, rich berry character, sweet tobacco spice and a subtle coconut note, all underscored by medium-grained tannins and good acidity. As for Spain’s Tempranillos from Ribera del Duero, don’t get me started…it’s fun to sniff out the tea leaf, black olive and balsamic reductive notes so typical to the region, and to discover those flavor profiles mingling with an array of other characteristics, all thanks to local producers’ experimentation with American and French oak as well as yields, but I digress.
Today, TAPAS is busy promoting wines, comprised of at least 75 percent of several varieties from Spain and Portugal, here in the U.S. as well a working with growers and producers in Arizona, California, Oregon, Texas and Washington states. For more information, visit: www.tapasociety.org.
Charles Communications Associates footnote: November 5th Tempranillo Tasting via Brandlive at 5 PM PST/8 PM EST – Limited seats available to qualified wine writers and/or bloggers.
The region of Lodi in California, cultivates a number of Iberian varietals including Tempranillo and will be hosting a Brandlive® tasting for wine bloggers on November 5th at 5 PM PST wherein we will be tasting four Tempranillo wines with TAPAS President and Lodi Winegrape Commission Program Director Stuart Spencer along with two other Lodi-based winemakers. For more information contact Charles Communications Associates’ Account Executive Alex Fondren at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow this link.
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