International Tempranillo Face Off – USA Fares Well
Thinking about Tempranillo, what wines come to mind first? Rioja is an unquestionable champion, with its bright fruit expressions packaged into eucalyptus laden cigar box. Ribera del Duero is definitely next, with its perfect, firm structure, and then Toro, with layers upon layers of power. Tempranillo has one of the most synonyms, most of which point back to the different areas in Spain, so it is given that outside of three regions we just mentioned, the grape is very popular all around Spain. And then… well, there is not much outside of Spain. Portugal, where Tempranillo is known under the names of Aragonez and Tinta Roriz, is the only internationally renown source of Tempranillo wines outside of Spain – even then mostly using Tempranillo as a part of the blend. Australia and a few other countries also experiment with the grape – but I’m not sure they produce something worth bragging about.
And then, of course, there is the USA. Tempranillo made it into the California at the beginning of the 20th century, but really didn’t find much success there as a single varietal wine. You can find some of the Tempranillo made in the southern California, in places like Temecula Valley, but those wines are little known outside of the wineries which produce them. On a big scale, Texas probably is having the biggest success with Tempranillo in USA, where the grape is considered a signature state grape, and Tempranillo wines produced by many wineries. But our conversation today will not be about Texas Tempranillo – we are going a lot further North on the map, to the state of Oregon.
No, Oregon is not an internationally renowned source of Tempranillo wines, not yet anyway. However, while I was recently participating in the #winechat about Oregon Pinot Noir, someone mentioned Tempranillo as one of the grapes in Oregon which might have a bright future. As I’m very partial to the Tempranillo wines with the great love of Rioja, that piqued my interest. Tempranillo? From Oregon? Really? How good can that be? I was told that Abacela winery in Oregon produces excellent Tempranillo wine. I reached out to the winery, and – got the bottle to taste. But – I didn’t want to taste this wine on its own – I wanted to create some frame of reference. Yes, I would love to get the Texas Tempranillo, but – that would take a lot of time. Of course the best available source of Tempranillo wines is Spain, so I decided to get a few different wines from Spain. I purposefully avoided Rioja – those wines are rarely 100% pure Tempranillo, and the winemaking style is very specific to Rioja, so it wouldn’t be a good reference. Ribera del Duero wines also might be a bit too specific for this exercise, and Toro wines pack way too much power. I looked for generic Tempranillo renditions in my local wine store, and came up with two bottles from Spain – one from Navarra and one from La Mancha.
Before we talk about our “face off”, let me say a few words about our competitor from USA – Abacela winery. According to the winery’s web site, Abacela name comes from “an ancient and now almost obsolete verb, ‘abacelar’ common to three Iberian languages-Spanish, Galician and Portuguese-and which means “to plant a grape vine.”” Abacela winery started in 1992, when Earl and Hilda Jones purchased a 19th century property in Umpqua Valley in Southern Oregon. This purchase was the result of a very long and intense research on the climate, soil and landscape, to find the place ideally suited to produce a Tempranillo wine on par with the best Spanish Tempranillo. If you are interested to see how the pursuit of passion looks like, read the section called Story on Abacela web site – I wish the other wineries will give you even half of the information about their wines and vineyards.
Our tasting, which I proudly called Face Off, was very simple – I sat down with my wife to try these three wines. We tried the wines in the exact order as you will see it below.
Here are the detailed notes:
2010 Venta Morales Tempranillo La Mancha, Spain (13.5% ABV, $7.99)
Color/visual: Dark garnet, almost black. Very substantial legs
Nose: Baking spices, ripe plums, touch of earthiness
Palate: Prunes, touch of figs, nice acidity, slight imbalance at midpalate
Verdict: Shows slightly “overboard”. Drinkability: 7
2011 Abacela Fiesta Tempranillo Umpqua Valley, Oregon (13.6% ABV, 17 months in barrel, $23)
Color/visual: Garnet, noticeable rim variation as well as legs
Nose: dark chocolate, herbs
Palate: Very elegant, nice fresh fruit, good acidity, very noticeable cherries, present tannins, medium to long finish
Verdict: overall very nice wine. Should be able to stand up against Ribera del Duero. Drinkability: 8-
2009 Bodegas Ochoa Finca Santa Cruz Tempranillo Crianza Limited Edition, Navarra, Spain (13.5% ABV, aged 1 year in American oak, $15.99)
Color/visual: Garnet color, very slight rim variation, noticeable legs
Nose: Touch of sweet fruit, sweet cherries, eucalyptus
Palate:Elegant, perfectly balanced, soft sweet fruit, tobacco, smoke, incredible textural complexity, touch of dust
Verdict: An outstanding Tempranillo, one of the very best I ever tried. Drinkability: 8
As you can see, Abacela Tempranillo definitely worth its
salt soil, and I would highly recommend it (if you can find it). I also want to note that Abacela Fiesta is only an introductory Tempranillo – they produce another 3 wines out of Tempranillo, plus a full range of very unusual for the Oregon (or even USA) wines, such as Tannat, Dolcetto and Tinta Amarela – full list looks very impressive and tempting.
As for my little Tempranillo competition, we are done here. Have you ever had an “unusual” Tempranillo wine? Have you ever tried Abacela Tempranillo or any of their wines? What do you think? Cheers!