Home > California, Sierra Foothills, Tempranillo, wine > World-class American Tempranillo

World-class American Tempranillo

If you will ask me “what is your favorite wine”, I would always honestly tell you that I don’t have one. Which is generally a true statement. With may be an exception of the Spanish wines – and Tempranillo wines in particular. Deep, deep down, I know that I have a tiny bias towards Tempranillo. Or at least if you will ask about the most memorable wine experiences, Tempranillo wines would be definitely at the forefront.

The “world-class” is not necessarily a generic term when it comes to wines – but this is how I like to refer to the wines which are best of the best in my opinion. The “world-class” in my vocabulary is reserved to the wines which don’t leave you indifferent; these wines solicit emotional response from the person drinking them, and for the most cases that response is a simple three letter “word” – wow (is this actually a word? Not so sure…).

Tempranillo is a great grape of Spain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro are close to any oenophile’s heart, with lots of unquestionably world-class wines, with hundreds years of winemaking history. Tempranillo made it to the California at the beginning of the 20th century, but was planted in the wrong places too many times (Tempranillo does the best on higher appellations and in the cooler climates), and was mostly used in the blends. In the 1990s, it made it to Oregon, Washington and then Texas, where it started showing excellent results in the single-varietal wines. I had an opportunity to taste single-varietal Tempranillo from Abacela winery in Oregon, and few of the Tempranillo wines from Texas, and they all were good and promising wines.

Couple of days after I published my Spanish Wine Recommendations posts, I got an email from Danielle Irwin, who I knew as a blogger at Naggiar Vineyards, the winery in the Sierra Foothills region in California, where her husband Derek works as a winemaker. Danielle offered to send me a sample of their Tempranillo wine, bottled under their own label as Irwin Family Vineyards. As you can imagine, I gleefully agreed (I rarely refuse a sample, never mind a bottle of Tempranillo), and in a few days the package arrived with two bottles and a letter from Derek inside. The letter included all the technical details regarding the Tempranillo bottle, as to where the grapes were growing (specific plot of the estate vineyard at 1,500 ft elevation), when the grapes were picked (in October 2010), how grapes were fermented (stainless steel and large format French oak barrels) and then how the wine was aged. I let the wine rest for a few days after the trip (to try to avoid “bottle shock”), but then patience worn out, and I opened that bottle…

Irwin Family Vineyards Tempranillo

2010 Irwin Family Tempranillo Piedra Roja Block 22 Sierra Foothills ($36, 13.5% ABV, 90% French Oak, 10% American Oak, 28 month)

Color: Dark garnet
Nose: Cherries, cedar box, spices
Palate: Dense, chewy, layered, blackberries, dusty texture (reminiscent of the famous Rutherford Dust). Great complementing tannins, soft but well supporting the structure. Perfect balance. Coffee and mocha in the long lingering finish.
Verdict: outright delicious, world-class wine. Drinkability: 8+. I would drink this wine in a heartbeat at any time. As an interesting side note, the wine paired amazingly well with the Comte cheese.

Derek mentioned in his note that this wine was inspired by the wines of Toro region, which typically are the most concentrated renditions of the Tempranillo, and I definitely see that parallel.

The second bottle was a Tempranillo blend:

Irwin Family Vineyards The Bull

2013 Irwin Family Vineyards The Bull Sierra Foothills ($24, 13.8% ABV, 44% Tempranillo, 28% Malbec, 28% Petite Sirah)

Color: Dark Garnet
Nose: sweet plums, vanilla, nutmeg, dark chocolate
Palate: medium body, touch of spices, perfect acidity, nice textural presence, nutmeg, impeccable balance, lots of dark chocolate both on the palate and in the medium-long finish
Verdict: Delicious! Drinkability: 8. Bonus: works very well with food, especially charcuterie (meat and cheese).

There you go, my friends – two delicious wines from the region which I really want to explore in depth (Sierra Foothills), and the world-class American Tempranillo. You don’t have to believe me – head over to the Napa and taste it at Irwin Family Vineyards, or sign up for their wine club (Tempranillo is only available for the club members). Cheers!

  1. June 13, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    I am in total agreement, when asked my favorite wine I will always say Spanish wine, tempranillo, rioja I love them. I’ve never tried from Irwin vineyards. Must try. I have a 2001 Rioja Gran Reserva that I have yet to open. Waiting to Grill some steak and enjoy with that.

    • talkavino
      June 14, 2015 at 7:44 am

      2001 Gran Reserva can wait for a long time – you will enjoy it no matter what and when 🙂

  2. June 13, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    I guess everything is possible in the United States – Even great Tempranillo wines 😉
    I doubt it’s available over here but I’ll take a look if I can find it. Cheers, Anatoli!

    • talkavino
      June 14, 2015 at 7:45 am

      Yes, Julian, Tempranillo ( and Sangiovese and even Aglianico : ). US is a large country with a lot of different micro climates, so there are probably right places for many different grapes…

  3. June 13, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    love tempranillo – lucky you to be sent some bottles to test! Generally stick to the continent I’m on when drinking wines but if Im over in the US soon I’ll keep an eye open – and despite many trips to California I never made it to Napa valley – sad isn’t it?

    • talkavino
      June 14, 2015 at 7:48 am

      Poli, I hope you will make it to Napa one day. Butno matter where you are going in US, simply search for wineries around your destination – you might be surprised, as the wineries are now everywhere, and many of them are making very good wines. Also, if you will be heading to New York or New York area, let me know – there are some excellent wineries around here as well.

      • June 14, 2015 at 8:25 am

        Hi – didn’t know there are excellent wineries in the NY area too – good to know – I will definitely be in touch if I ever plan another trip over to the US – I have to say I love San Fran area – and the food there, so I might manage a trip over again at some point 🙂 – in the UK the other week we were invited to try a white wine from Teneriffa – the sommelier, an Italian lady, was very complimentary, so we gave it a shot – there was a strong sulfur component in the nose (not up and up on wine lingo in English so bear with me..) and petrol on the tongue – and minerally in the finish – it was a decidedly odd wine and we went with a more accessible white from Portugal instead – but I thought you’d be interested in the description and I wondered if you had come across anything similar. It was clear that the wine came from a volcanic area – almost suspiciously so….

        • talkavino
          June 14, 2015 at 9:31 am

          you know, wine flavors are an acquired taste. I love all the flavors you described – I never had them in one glass of wine, though. I love the “gunflint” of the volcanic wines on the nose (similar to Chablis), but Petorl so far I only had on the Rieslings, so yes, never had them together but it would be interesting. By the way, do you know that UK has lots of good vineyards nowadays? I recently had the sparkling wine from Carr Taylor, and it was outstanding (you can read about it here: https://talk-a-vino.com/2015/02/19/valentines-day-wine-experiences/), so I hope you taking an advantage of the vineyards in “your backyard” 🙂

        • June 14, 2015 at 9:52 am

          Hello – oh yes many flavours are an acquired taste – the sommelier was really excited about this wine – gunflint – sounds better than sulfur (:) although she did agree) – don’t remember petrol in a riesling but will keep my sensors open – if I remember what wine it was I will let you know – the restaurant was this one: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/reviews/midsummer-house-midsummer-common-cambridge-2369503.html – I did know that the UK is now producing some top wines, apparently some of the sparkling wines are rated above French sparkling wines, according to the sommelier at the restaurant we were at though who offered us french sparkling wines and a I think a German one the price structure is so much higher than continental europe at the moment that they don’t serve them – we did ask in fact. I will check out your post on valentines day – wouldn’t do to miss out on wines in my back yard now would it!

  4. June 14, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Sounds fantastic. Danielle is delightful. I have not tried their Tempranillo. Sounds like a need to!

    • talkavino
      June 14, 2015 at 8:44 pm

      Definitely excellent wines. You should when you will have an opportunity.

  5. June 14, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Thank you so much for the glowing review Anatoli! We’re so glad you enjoyed them. 🙂

    • talkavino
      June 14, 2015 at 8:44 pm

      Excellent wines, Danielle, what can I say 🙂

  6. June 15, 2015 at 4:53 am

    These sound like such beautiful wines Anatoli… and especially if they go well with a cheese and charcuterie platter. Yum! 🙂 Off this week to source some Tempranillo!

  7. June 15, 2015 at 9:13 am

    So glad to see that you got a chance to try some of Derek’s wines! And also glad to see that you enjoyed them!

    • talkavino
      June 16, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      Yes, I’m glad too – excellent wines.

  8. June 15, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Wow! I need to get some of that good stuff down the hatch. Immediately, I was quite impressed with the packaging – those labels are so refined, classic but differentiated and relevant – I’m a fan. Now gotta go get that wine….nice post!

    • talkavino
      June 16, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      Thank you Loie! I love the label too, but most importantly, the content of the bottle is great 🙂

  1. November 11, 2015 at 8:40 am
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