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Magnificent Tempranillo

December 24, 2019 3 comments

Let’s start with some definitions:

Of course, you know what “magnificent” means. Still, I feel compelled to start with the definition to explain my rather overzealous title. After looking at the Merriam-Webster and Google definitions for “magnificent”, I decided to go with the one from Dictionary.com, as it perfectly underscores the emotions which I tried to express with this title.

Wine is personal. Wine solicit the emotion, but it is personal – the appeal of the liquid in the glass is first and foremost for the person who is taking a sip. Two people can have a sip of exactly the same wine and have completely opposite reactions – one might love it and the other might hate it. Thus calling the wine magnificent is personal – and it is simply the expression of the emotion one had after taking a sip of that wine.

Today Tempranillo is grown around the world. You can find delicious renditions coming from Australia, Napa Valley, Oregon, Lodi. My first Tempranillo love, however, is Rioja, and this is where it still stays. A sip of La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, CVNE, or El Coto makes everything right with the world. Same as with any other wine, Rioja can’t be taken for granted – you need to know the producer. But in the hands of the right producer, Rioja becomes … magnificent. It is the wine of exceptional beauty, it is extraordinarily fine and superb, and it is noble and sublime – exactly as the definition above says.

Of course, it is not just Rioja which makes Tempranillo a star. Ribera del Duero, located a bit more down south and central, is another source of magnificent Tempranillo wines – if you had a pleasure to try the wines from Emilio Moro, Pesquera, Vega Sicilia you know what I’m talking about. Again, in the hands of the good producers, Ribera del Duero Tempranillo is every drop magnificent.

To make this conversation about magnificent Tempranillo more practical I want to offer you my notes on a few samples of Tempranillo wines I had an opportunity to enjoy recently.

CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España) needs no introduction for the Tempranillo fans. Founded in 1879 (yes, this year is the 140th anniversary of CVNE) by two brothers, the CVNE is still run by the family, and today consists of 4 wineries – CVNE, Imperial, Vina Real, and Contino. However, those are the Rioja wineries and today CVNE is taking its 140 years of winemaking experience to the other regions. Here is an example for you – Bela from Ribera del Duero.

The grapes for Bela wine came from 185 acres Tempranillo vineyard, located at the altitude of 2,400 feet in the village of Villalba de Duero and planted in 2002. Here is the story behind the name of the wine and the picture on the label: “Bela’s label is a facsimile of an old CVNE label from the 1910’s. The stars represent each of the children of CVNE’s cofounder, Eusebio Real de Asúa. His brother Raimundo, the other co‐founder, had no descendants. Each star represents one of the children: Sofia, Áurea, and Ramón. Sofia was known as Bela. We descend from her.

2017 Bela Ribera Del Duero (14% ABV, $18, 100% Tempranillo, 6 months in 1-year-old American and French oak barrels)
Dark garnet, almost black
Roasted meat, coffee, cedar box
Beautifully complex palate, black cherries, blackberries, eucalyptus, fresh, balanced.
8-, excellent wine, built for the long haul, will evolve.

Contino was the first single-vineyard Rioja created by CVNE and the owners of the Contino estate (which takes its history from the 16th century). 150 acres Lacerna vineyard in Rioja Alavesa is the source of grapes for the Contino line of wines. Here is the story behind the name: “The “contino” was the officer in charge of a guard corps of a hundred soldiers who protected the royal family “de contino” (continuously) from the times of the Catholic Monarchs onwards. According to the tradition, Saint Gregory, the patron saint of vineyards, passed through the lands of this same Rioja property, giving rise to the use of his figure in the logo of this winery, and to the use of his name for some of the plots now planted with vines.”

2012 Contino Rioja Reserva Rioja DOC (13.5% ABV, $45, 85% Tempranillo,10% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo and Garnacha, 2 years in used American and French oak plus 2 years in the bottle)
Dark garnet, almost black
Cherries, cigar box
Bright, uplifting dark fruit medley, clean acidity, a touch of minerality, velvety texture with well-integrated tannins, perfect balance
8+, delicious, lots of pleasure in every sip

Bodegas Beronia was founded in 1973 by a group of friends who fell in love with La Rioja while visiting on a holiday. The name Beronia is not random – here is the explanation: “name linked to the history of the land where the winery is found. In the 3rd Century BC the area known as Rioja today was inhabited by a celtic tribe called the ‘Berones’. They inhabited the towns of Tricio, Varea and Leiva, marking the limits of the Berones region, today La Rioja.

Originally, the wines were produced literally by friends for the friends, without much thought of commercial sales. In 1982, Bodegas Beronia became a part of González Byass family, and at that point wines of Bodegas Beronia started to appear on the international markets.

Bodegas Beronia Rioja wines represent an intersection of tradition and modernity. While “traditional” and “modern” styles of Rioja can be a subject of great debate with a lot of wine consumed to prove the point, I would offer a very simplistic viewpoint. Tempranillo has a great affinity to the oak; the resulting Rioja wine is well influenced by the oak regimen. Traditionally, Rioja is matured in American oak casks. Modern style Rioja often uses French oak. Here is your style distinction – American oak versus French. Bodegas Beronia goes a step further than many. They create their own barrels, using both American and French oak elements in one barrel. Thus the wine is not defined by blending of the separately aged components, but instead, it is aging in the mixed environment.

Here are the notes for the two wines I was able to taste:

2015 Bodegas Beronia Crianza Rioja DOC (13.5% ABV, $14.99, 91% Tempranillo, 8% Graciano, 1% Mazuelo, 12 months in American and French oak barrels)
Dark garnet
Vanilla, plums, cedar box
Fresh dark berries, ripe cherries, tobacco, a touch of sapidity, medium-plus body, clean acidity, a touch of eucalyptus, medium-long finish
8-, the second day was better than the first. 8+ day 2 and 3

2013 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva DOC (13.5% ABV, $19.99, 95% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano, 1% Mazuelo, 3 years in American and French oak barrels and in the bottle)
Dark garnet
Plums, cherries, tobacco
Dark fruit, tar, tobacco, cherries, a touch of cherry pit, bright acidity, firm texture, noticeable minerality, medium finish
8, excellent. Day 3 is more open.

No, we are not done yet. I have one more Rioja to discuss with you – from Bodegas LAN.

Bodegas LAN was founded in 1972. Here is another winery name which is not random: “A name – LAN – composed of the initials of the three provinces that make up the D.O.Ca. Rioja: Logroño (now La Rioja), Álava and Navarra.” Bodegas LAN owns about 170 acres vineyard called Viña Lanciano, which is subdivided into the 22 parcels, each with a unique microclimate. These 22 parcels are growing Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano, most of them on the 40 -60 years old vines.

Grapes for LAN Xtrème Ecológico wine come from 12.5 acres parcel of 100% organically certified Tempranillo, located at the altitude of 1,200 feet.

2015 Bodegas LAN Xtrème Ecológico Crianza Rioja DOC (14.5% ABV, $15, 100% organically-certified Tempranillo, 14 months in new French oak, 9 months in the bottle)
Dark garnet, practically black
Cherries, cedar box, eucalyptus, tobacco, open and inviting
Gorgeous, layers of dark fruit, soft but present tannins, baking spices, firm and perfectly structured, tart cherries on the finish, tannins taking over.
8+, a long haul wine, will be perfect in 10 years or longer. A total steal at a price.

Culmen is one of the top wines made by Bodegas LAN, produced only in exceptional vintages. The grapes for this wine come from 13 acres El Rincón parcel, located at the 1,500 feet altitude.

2011 Bodegas LAN Culmen Rioja Reserva DOC (13.5% ABV, $55, 88% Tempranillo, 12% Graciano, 26 months in new French oak, 20 months in the bottle)
Dark garnet with a purple hue
Red and black fruit, roasted meat, warm granite, sweet cherries, medium-plus intensity
Fresh tart succulent cherries are popping in your mouth, changing into sour cherry compote with tar, tobacco and cedar box. Delicious long finish. Lots of pleasure in every sip.
8+/9-, outstanding.

Here you go, my friends. Six delicious, or shall we say, magnificent, Tempranillo renditions. I will be happy to drink any of them again, at a moment’s notice. What do you think of Tempranillo wines? Got any favorites to share? Cheers!

The Art of Tempranillo

May 24, 2018 7 comments

Source: Vintae.com

I love Tempranillo wines. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I had a wide range of Tempranillo – with the exception of Australia, I believe I tried most of the major renditions – Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Toro, most everywhere else in Spain, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington (am I missing something? do tell!). With all the love and respect to all the regions, if I have to put an order of priorities in that “list”, I would put Rioja first, Ribera del Duero very close second, but the competition for the 3rd place would be severe – in my world, of course.

I like wines of Toro, the closest sibling to the Rioja and Ribera del Duero, but it would be hard for me to place them higher than some of the beautiful Tempranillo renditions from Irwin Family Vineyards, Duchman, or Fields – considering the Toro wines I had in the past. Compared to Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Toro is … well, maybe I need to explain why I keep mentioning Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro together all the time. These are the only three regions in the world where the absolute majority of the red wines is made out of the Tempranillo grapes. Yes, there are Garnacha and Graciano in Rioja, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Ribera del Duero, but still – most of the red wines in these three regions are made out of the Tempranillo, hence the constant comparison.

Out of the three regions, Toro is south-most one, with an expressly continental climate, low annual rainfall amounts, and significant range of day-night temperatures – which typically translates well into the flavor. Tempranillo is the grape of Toro, but similarly to Tuscany/Brunello, where you have Sangiovese and Sangiovese Grosso, Tempranillo in Toro is known as Tinta de Toro, a.k.a Tempranillo de Castilla, a.k.a. Ink of Toro. The grape is a bit smaller, with thicker skin, which coupled with growing conditions typically results, in massive, concentrated wines requiring extensive aging to become drinkable – I still have a memory of trying Alabaster made by Sierra Cantabria, one of the well-known producers in Toro, which was one of the most massive wines I ever experienced. Nevertheless, as I said at the beginning, Tempranillo is one of the favorites, so when the opportunity called to try 3 wines from Toro, I was definitely curious – and a bit cautious at the same time.

To ease things up, together with the 3 Toro wines from Bodega Matsu came a bottle of Rioja Reserva from Bodega Classica. While coming from unrelated producers, there is a common link between them – this link is called Vintae – a young company with a serious passion for the Spanish wine for the modern world. Vintae, started in 1999 by the Arambarri family, set on changing world’s perception of the Spanish wine as “boring”. To the date, Vintae unifies a collection of 11 different “projects”, all focused on showcasing the regions and the grapes.

Going back to the wines at hand, let’s talk about Rioja first. The wine comes from Bodega Classica, located in the heart of Rioja Alta. Rioja Alta offers a unique high-altitude setting to produce arguably the best Tempranillo of the whole of Rioja region. Couple that with more than 100 years old vineyards, and you are looking at some tasty opportunities in the bottle, as this Bodega Classica Hacienda López de Haro Rioja Reserva was. Here are my notes:

2013 Bodega Classica Hacienda López de Haro Rioja Reserva DOCa (13.5% ABV, $16.99, 90% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha, 5% Graciano, 20 months in French and American oak)
Dark garnet color
Pepper, vanilla, raspberries, mushrooms, nice minerality
Medium body, good acidity, noticeable alcohol burn initially, went away in about 15 minutes, good fruit showed up, characteristic cedar notes, good acidity, round, soft.
8-, nice, just give it a bit of time to soften up at the beginning. The second day continued without changes. Good life expectancy, as expected of Rioja Reserva. And an excellent QPR.

Now, let’s go back to Toro. As I already said, in my prior experience, Toro wines were massive and concentrated, requiring long aging to soften and really show a beautiful expression of Tempranillo. And then there were wines called Matsu.

Bodega Matsu wines

Matsu in means “wait” in Japanese. As we all know, waiting is one of the favorite games of oenophiles. When it comes to the three Matsu wines I had an opportunity to taste, there are many different levels of “waiting”. The wines had been progressively aged for the longer times before the release – 3 months for El Picaro, 14 months for El Recio, 16 months for El Viejo. The grapes were harvested from the vines of different age (again, progressively) – 50-70 years old for El Picaro, 90-100 years old for El Recio, more than 100 years old for El Viejo. See, waiting here is clearly a part of the equation.

And then there are those ultra-creative labels. Not only labels commemorate people who actually worked to create the wines, they clearly identify what you should expect from the wines – in age, in style, and even in price. I conducted a little experiment, first with my kids, and then with the people on Instagram, asking them to identify the most expensive wine – nobody made a mistake, the labels speak very clearly to us.

How were the wines? Surprising. Probably the best Toro wines I ever had – without any regard to the pricing category. Here are my notes, so you can see for yourself:

2016 Bodega Matsu El Picaro Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $13.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 50 – 70 years old vines, 3 months minimum aging on the lees, concrete tanks)
Bright ruby color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation
Young fresh berries, medium+ intensity, a touch of vanilla
Surprisingly light on the palate, pleasant tannins, fresh berries, very quaffable.
8-, might be the lightest rendition of Toro I ever had. The smell is a bit more complex on the second day. Palate nicely evolved, good balance, raspberries, no more impression of the young wine, lots of minerality.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Recio Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $21.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 90 – 100 years old vines, 14 months aging in second use oak barrels)
Garnet color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation too
Sage, fresh raspberries, quite fruity, roasted notes, minerality, distant hint of cinnamon
Underripe plums, blueberries, thyme, nice herbal component, surprisingly light, still noticeable alcohol, needs more time
8-, needs time. Second day: 8/8+, velvety texture, well integrated, excellent balance, a touch of tobacco and espresso on the palate and ripe plums. Outstanding.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Viejo Toro DO (15% ABV, $46.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 100+ years old vines, 16 months in new French oak barrels)
Garnet Color, noticeable legs, rim variation is not extensive, but present
Sweet blueberries and raspberries on the nose, sage, sweet oak
8- first day, waiting for more.
Second day: 8, much evolved, more integrated, velvety texture, dark fruit, round, smooth. Will evolve further.

Here you are, my friends – the Art of Wine, from the label to the glass. Very impressive and thought-provoking wines, definitely worth seeking. Have you had any of these wines? Have you had Toro wines before? Do you have any Tempranillo favorites? Cheers!

Rioja Versus Rioja – Will One Tempranillo More?

November 10, 2017 13 comments

The time has come for a battle, where the brother will go against the brother and the blood will spill … – oops, let’s cull the drama before it sets in – it is the wine we are talking about, and if anything will be spilled, it will be the wine – but I promise to be very careful, as red wine is not easy to get off the clothes.

Today, in honor of the International Tempranillo Day, we will put glass to glass some of the best of the best in Rioja’s World. These wines are truly the siblings (brothers or not), as both wines are produced by Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España (the Northern Spanish Wine Company), also known as CVNE, and also sometimes referred to as Cune, due to an interesting style of writing used on the labels.

CVNE Rioja wines

Wines were produced in Spain forever. However, the story of Rioja as we know it, started in the late 19th century, after phylloxera epidemic wiped out most of the vines in Bordeaux, but England’s thirst for Claret Bordeaux was so famous for, was at its pick. Producers in Rioja wanted to become a new source of Claret, and some of the most ambitious producers even set up their new operations right by the train station in Haro, to ensure the best transport for their wines (you can read more here).

CVNE was created by two brothers in 1879, and the ownership stays in the family even today. In 1920, Viña Real line of wines was started to produce Rioja in new, modern style. CVNE owns about 1360 acres of vineyards, located in Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta. Both appellations have similar soils and Atlantic coastal climate exposure, however, Rioja Alta vineyards are located at the higher altitudes than Rioja Alavesa, which shows in the resulting fruit.

Before we will enter the battle, we need to establish some ground rules, to make sure that our fighters are in the same “weight category”. The rules are not difficult: there are 4 main varieties which can be used in Rioja – Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan). Together, these 4 varieties should represent at least 85% of the blend or 95% of grapes are destemmed; there are few other grapes allowed to be used in the leftover percentage.  Crianza wines should be aged for at least 2 years ( 6 months in the cask); Reserva – 3 years (12 months in the cask); Gran Reserva – 5 years (18 months in the cask).

Okay, now that we set the rules, let the fight begin.

Battle Crianza:

2014 Cune Crianza Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $13, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: Garnet
N: earthy smell, freshly crushed blackberries, acidity, cedar box,
P: medium body, pronounced minerality, restrained fruit, clear acidity, tart cherries, soft, round, hint of tobacco, asking for food
V: 8-, restrained and tart, definitely improved after a few hours of breathing

2013 Viña Real Crianza Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $15, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: Garnet
N: surprisingly different, dark fruit, touch of tobacco, touch of sweetness
P: medium+ body, firm structure, cherries and tart of cherries pit, even brighter acidity than a previous wine, more present mouthfeel
V: 8-, a touch fruitier and more round than previous wine. Different but equally good.

Conclusion: Tie. You can definitely taste the difference – Cune Crianza is more restrained and tight, and Viña Real is more round and fruity from the get-go. Slight difference in age and vintage might play a role. The wines would ask for a different food, but otherwise, they are equally good wines.

Battle Reserva:

The Reservas match fair and square – same vintage, same age in barrel, very similar grape composition

2013 Cune Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $28, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: dark garnet
N: medium+ intensity, leather, touch of sweet plum, cedar box, very inviting
P: medium weight, tart, acidic, a bit of sour cherries, explicit tannins. Needs time.
V: started opening after one hour in the open bottle. More fruit showed up, perfect structure, very pleasant. Excellent overall. 8+/9-

2013 Viña Real Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $32, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: dark garnet
N: medium- intensity, touch of the forest floor, mushrooms, tobacco, eucalyptus
P: cherries, cigar box, medium+ presence on the palate, crisp acidity, very pronounced French oak tannins, needs a lot of time
V: more approachable than the previous one, but still should improve with time – get a case and forget it. Also a great improvement after an hour. Wow. Superb. 8+/9-

Conclusion: Advantage Viña Real. The wines are clearly stylistically different. Appellation might play a role, and the winemaking technique, of course. I slightly preferred Viña Real, as it was a bit more round versus more austere Cune.

Battle Gran Reserva:

Here we have different vintages (both considered excellent, but I think 2010 has a slight edge up over 2011), different appellations and different grape compositions.

2011 Cune Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $47, 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: dark garnet, practically black, with Ruby rim
N: dark fruit, roasted meat notes, sage, eucalyptus
P: forthcoming tannins, tar, cherry, tart, with lip-smacking acidity, really long finish.
V: 8+, within 20 minutes of opening, not ready even remotely. After about 3 hours in the open bottle, the wine became opened up enough to become delicious.

2010 Viña Real Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $47, 95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: dark garnet, just a shade lighter than the previous wine
N: more open than previous wine – blackberries, graphite, pencil shavings, cedar box, iodine
P: incomparably more drinkable, fresh cherries, open, bright, perfect structure, eucalyptus, nicely integrated tannins
V: 8/8+, you feel the need for time, but the wine is a lot more approachable

Conclusion: Advantage Cune. First, nobody should drink 2010 Gran Reserva now. It is simply a waste. Buy it at a great price, and put it aside for another 15-20 years, especially from the outstanding vintage such as 2010. Just to explain the result here, I slightly preferred the firm structure of Cune versus fruity appeal of Viña Real.

As you can see, we didn’t find a winner of our Tempranillo battle – all 6 wines Tempranillo perfectly, as one would expect from such a great producer as CVNE.

I wish wine would be the only real battle we ever have to fight – wouldn’t that be great? Enjoy your glass of Tempranillo, no matter where it came from and celebrate the noble grape of Spain! Cheers!

Celebrate Tempranillo! 2016 Edition

November 10, 2016 8 comments

Tempranillo is one of the most popular red grapes in the world, requiring no introduction to the wine lovers, now even less than before. The star grape of Spain, a foundation of the timeless beauty of Rioja, finess of Ribera del Duero and dark raw power of Toro. Today (if I manage to publish this post before midnight) is International Tempranillo Day, the day when we acknowledge this early ripening grape, capable of bringing lots and lots of pleasure to the wine lovers everywhere.

I discovered Tempranillo in 2010, at the wine seminar at the PJ Wine store in Manhattan – and fell in love with it. And how you can not, after tasting 1964 Rioja Gran Reserva, which was still young and exuberant. I was seeking Tempranillo ever since, trying it at every occasion – some encounters happier than the others.

What interesting in this journey is that when I discovered Tempranillo for myself, my world was squarely limited to Spain, and even inside Spain, it was all about Rioja, Ribera del Duero and a little bit of Toro. I was always happy to celebrate the Tempranillo Day, so here is the collage which I produced based on the wines I knew, back in 2011:

Tempranillo_AutoCollage_23_ImagesTo my total delight, it appears that my Tempranillo worldview was inexcusably narrow. Texas, Oregon, Napa Valley and my newfound oenophile’s heaven, Lodi, are all producing world-class, delicious, complex, exciting Tempranillo wines. I heard about Tempranillo in Australia; never tried them, but now I’m a believer – great Tempranillo wines don’t have to be only from Spain. Thus I created a new collage, to better represent my latest discoveries:

Tempranillo wines collageAbacela from Oregon, Duchman from Texas, Irwine Family from Napa, Bokisch, McCay, Fields, Harney Lane from Lodi – lots and lots of tasty discoveries over the past few years – I hope you had your share of Tempranillo fun too.

Do you have your favorite Tempranillo wines? Where are they from? Who is the producer? Tell the world about them. Cheers!

Celebrate Tempranillo!

November 11, 2015 2 comments

I hope you are done with that celebratory bottle of Merlot from the last week, as a brand new grape celebration is upon us. This time, it is about the grape which is not as widespread as Merlot, but still a foundation of some of the absolutely best wines in the world – dark skinned grape called Tempranillo. On Thursday, November 12, we will be celebrating International Tempranillo Day, with festivities around the world as you can see at the TAPAS web site.
First and foremost, Tempranillo means Spain – Rioja, Ribera deal Duero, Toro and many other regions in Spain craft world class wines which rival in their longevity wines of Northern Rhône and Bordeaux (but still quite affordable, opposite to the latter).
Of course Tempranillo’s success is not confined to Spain only – Texas makes excellent Tempranillo wines, with some interesting efforts in California (for instance, Irwin Family – delicious!), Washington, Oregon and Australia. Tempranillo also shines in Portugal under the names of Tinta Roriz and Aragonez.
I can spend hours going through my favorite Tempranillo wines and experiences – just search this blog for “Tempranillo”, you will see what I’m talking about. Instead, I want to mention just my most recent encounter with Tempranillo wines from two weeks ago – Ramón Bilbao Rioja.


2011 Ramón Bilbao Rioja Crianza (13.5% ABV, $14, 100% Tempranillo, 14 month in oak) – open inviting nose of the fresh dark fruit with touch of cedar box. Fresh, firm, well structured on the palate, nice core of ripe cherries, eucalyptus, pencil shavings and touch of espresso, good acidity, overall very balanced. A perfect example of wine which is drinkable now, and will gladly evolve for the next 10–15 years. Also at the price – very hard to beat QPR.
What are your Tempranillo experiences? Got any favorites or celebration plans you care to share? Please do so below. And until the next grape holiday – cheers!

World-class American Tempranillo

June 13, 2015 23 comments

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!

Pleasures of the #GrapeDay – Delicious Tempranillo

November 15, 2014 15 comments

2004 Viña Mayor Ribera del Duero Once again I’m confessing my love for the “grape holidays” – knowing that the day has a special dedication to the specific grape variety makes selection of the wine to drink a much easier process. It also creates a feeling of the “special moment”, thus forcing you to open that-special-bottle-saved-for-the-special-occasion. Last grape holiday, the #GrenacheDay, prompted me to open a special bottle which was a lucky occasion, as the wine was about to turn over the hill.

Two days ago we were celebrating Tempranillo, a noble grape of Spain. Tempranillo is the most planted red grape in Spain, with the best and most famous wines coming from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro regions. But over the last decade, Tempranillo lost its status of Spain’s exclusive treasure – it spread all over the world, with Australia, Texas, Oregon, California, Washington and other regions producing world-class wines.

Now, to select the bottle of wine for the proper celebration, one have to go to their own cellar or the local wine store – of course, with the exception of the lucky ones who live in a close proximity of the right winery. Unless you actually live in Texas, Oregon or Washington, your chances of finding those Tempranillo wines in the store are pretty much non existent. So for me, the choice was simple – Spain. I love Spanish wines, especially Rioja – and my cellar shows that. For the most of the day, my plan was to open the Rioja bottle in the evening – I was thinking about 2003 La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi, which I had before and it was outstanding, despite a very difficult growing year. But then many of the twitter friends stated that they plan to open Ribera del Duero wines – and it got me thinking – do I have any options? Not a lot, but I do have a few bottles of Ribera del Duero, so actually, why not?

The bottle I pulled was 2004 Viña Mayor Reserva Ribera del Duero DO (13.5% ABV, ~$20). I was under impression that I wrote about this wine before in this blog – nope, I didn’t. The 2004 was an excellent year in Ribera del Duero, and Viña Mayor is an excellent producer. You put two and two together and what do you get? Five, of course! I love it when my wife takes a sip of the wine and says “wow” – one thing is to enjoy the wine by yourself, and it is totally different experience when someone else shares your enthusiasm – and it is not easy to impress my wife that much. Beautiful dark fruit on the nose, touch of herbs. The palate is just “wow” – multiple layers of fruit, touch of espresso, firm, dense, perfectly present, youthful, fresh, excellent acidity and overall very balanced. I’m glad I have another bottle – but it will have to wait for a while. Drinkability: 8+

There you have it, my friends – another successful grape holiday. How was your #TempranilloDay? Share your special moments, don’t be shy!

By the way, in case you are wondering – the next grape holiday is coming! #ZinfandelDay is on November 19th – luckily, you still have a bit of time to prepare. Cheers!

International Tempranillo Face Off – USA Fares Well

July 1, 2014 10 comments

DSC_0504Thinking 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!

Celebrate Tempranillo!

November 14, 2013 9 comments

Tempranillo_AutoCollage_29_ImagesToday is an International Tempranillo Day 2013!

Tempranillo is an indigenous grape originated in Spain (by the way, do you know that Spain has the biggest area of grape plantings in the world?), with more than 2000 years of history. It is black, thick-skinned grape, capable of surviving temperature swings of Mediterranean climate, with very hot days and cool nights. Name Tempranillo comes from Spanish word temprano, which means “early”. Tempranillo typically ripens two weeks earlier compare to many other grapes.  Tempranillo also one of the most widely planted red grapes in the world, with about 500,000 acres planted world-wide.

Tempranillo grapes are naturally low in acid and sugar content, so they often rely on blending partners to complement on both. Flavor profile of Tempranillo typically includes berries, leather (so famous in Rioja wines) and tobacco. Most famous Tempranillo wines come from Spain, from Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions, but Tempranillo is successfully growing in many other regions, including Portugal, California, Texas (up and coming star), South Africa, Australia and others. It is also interesting to note that Tempranillo is known under lots of different names (and as such, can throw some curve balls to The Wine Century club aficionados) – it is known in Spain as Tempranillo, Tinto Fino, Ull de Llebre, Tinto de Toro (this grape actually has clonal differences, similar to Sangiovese/Sangiovese Grosso), Cencibel and many others. It is known in Portugal as Tinta Roriz, Aragonez and Tinta Aragonez. But for the rest of the world it is simply known as Tempranillo.

So what is so great about Tempranillo? It has a few qualities which squarely set it on the line with the bets of the best in the wine world.

First, it has a great affinity for oak – Tempranillo wines can age and improve for the very long time in the oak barrels, and the resulting wine will pick up subtle nuances and complexity from that oak.

Tempranillo wines are very good at ageing. Best Tempranillo wines will rival best Bordeaux and Burgundy when it comes to improving with age and maintaining its youthful character. I have a first-hand account I can share with you – here is my experience with 1947 Rioja Imperial.

Last but absolutely not least in my book – Tempranillo wines are affordable! You can drink absolutely fabulous wines in the price range of $20 to $50, occasionally going into the $80+ – can you say the same about California Cabernet, or Burgundy, or Bordeaux? Not really… But with Tempranillo wines you do have this luxury. Of course there are  Tempranillo wines which will cost $600+, but those are the exception, not the norm.

So what Tempranillo wines should you be drinking today, or any other day for that matter? I would love to give you a variety of recommendations, but come to think of it, I can only mention a few names coming strictly from Spain. There is nothing I can tell you about about Portuguese Tempranillo wines, as Tinta Roriz is typically blended with other grapes to produce Port. And while Tempranillo wines are made in Texas, California, Oregon, Washington and probably other states in US, most of those wines are available only at the wineries and rarely leave state limits.

But – when it comes to Tempranillo from Spain, I got favorites! Let me give you a few names of the producers – all the recommendations are personal, as I tasted many of their wines.

Rioja: La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Muga, Vina Real, Lopez de Heredia, Cune Imperial

Ribero del Duero: Emilio Moro, Vega Sicilia, Hasienda el Monsterio, Bodegas Alion

Toro: Teso La Monja, Numanthia

DO La Mancha: Bodegas Volver (one of the singularly best wines money can buy for around $15)

So I think it is the time to have a glass wine. Before we part let me leave you with a few interesting resources:

A vintage chart of Rioja wines, going all the way back to the 1925

A general vintage chart of Spanish wines, starting from 1992

A map of Spanish wine regions

And we are done here. Ahh, before I forget – Tempranillo Day now has a permanent spot in the calendar! It will be celebrated every second Thursday in November. Have a great Tempranillo Day and cheers!

 

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Tempranillo Day, Beaujolais Nouveau Coming Up, The Widow Who Reinvented Champagne, and more

November 13, 2013 8 comments

DSC_0185 Retro Cellars Petite SirahMeritage time!

First, let’s start with the answer for the wine quiz #81, grape trivia – Petite Sirah.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about red grape called Petite Sirah. Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Name the grape: In California, Petite Sirah is a popular blending addition to ___?

A1: Zinfandel. You can find a small percentage of Petite Sirah (5% – 10%) in many Zinfandel bottlings

Q2: When it comes to the wines in the United States, there is an interesting similarity between the Petite Sirah and Primitivo. Can you explain?

A2: The similarity comes from the fact that both Petite Sirah and Primitivo were the part of the same request to the TTB (government organization in charge of labeling), to allow use of Durif interchangeably with Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel with Primitivo. It is interesting to note that contrary to the information in Wikipedia, which says that both requests were never resolved, it appears that Durif is officially recognized as a synonym to Petite Sirah, while Primitivo and Zinfandel are not – you can find the complete list of the approved names through the link to the list of approved grape names in this US government document.

Q3: Which one doesn’t belong and why:

a. Arizona, b. Illinois, c. New Mexico, d. New York, e. Texas

A3: d. New York – there is no Petite Sirah wines produced in New York (at least in the meaningful quantities).

Q4: In the bad, rainy growing season conditions in California, Petite Sirah can be a savior – can you explain why and how does it help?

A4: As the Petite Sirah is mildew resistant and provides supple tannins, color and structure, in the bad years it can be added to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other wines to improve the quality.

Q5: What love has to do with the Petite Sirah?

A5: “P.S. I Love You” is a consortium dedicated to the promotion of Petite Sirah wines.

Talking about the results, the drunken cyclist continues his winning streak, so he gets ( again) the prize of unlimited bragging rights. Well done!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

First of all, tomorrow, November 14th, is an International Tempranillo Day! Tempranillo, the noble grape of Spain and Portugal, and rising star of Texas, is a source of many wonderful long-living wines, and it is definitely the grape worth celebrating. TAPAS, the society of producers and advocates of Tempranillo, lists a number of events celebrating the grape. But you don’t even need to go anywhere to celebrate the Tempranillo – just grab a bottle, may be of Magnificent Rioja (but really, any Tempranillo wine will do), pour, smell, sip and enjoy!

Now, the next Thursday, November 21st, is a third Thursday in November. Do you know what it means? Yes, you are right – Beaujolais Nouveau! Every third Thursday in November, the young Beaujolais wine of the same year’s vintage, called Beaujolais Nouveau, is becoming available in all the wine stores around the world. It is not just the wine – Beaujolais Nouveau also means celebration and fun. Don’t forget to get the bottle and join the festivities!

I’m sure you know that classic Champagne with the yellow label on it – Veuve Cliquot, which would literally translate into a “widow Cliquot”. But do you know the role the Barbe-Nicole Cliquot Ponsardin, the actual person behind that label, played in pretty much enabling the whole Champagne industry to exist, and for the mere mortals to be able to afford a bottle of Champagne? Barbe-Nicole’s  perseverance and her invention of the riddling were some of the key elements in making Champagne into what we readily enjoy today. Here is an article for you which is definitely worth reading – it is somewhat long but very fascinating and will be well worth your time.  And you might even complement the reading with the glass of Champagne in your hand – it will be very appropriate.

Last piece I want to bring to your attention is Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of 2013 list, gradually exposed at the rate of a few wines per day at the Wine Spectator web site. There are various contests taking place right now to predict the Wine Spectator Wine of the Year 2013, including the one which Wine Spectator runs by itself. So far the Wines #10 – #7 had been revealed, and more wines will be announced every day finishing with the Wine of the Year on Friday, November 15th. The full top 100 list will be published on Monday, November 18th. Looking at the 4 of the top 10 announced so far, I can only say that I’m a bit surprised. One of the selection criteria for the Top 10 is affordability – with the wines #10 and #9 priced at $135, and wines #8 and #7 priced at $120, I feel like I missed the memo about substantial increase in my salary, as those prices are definitely outside of the “affordable” realm, at least in my book. Also, as “availability” is another factor, highly allocated Quilceida Creek (wine #10) makes it also an interesting choice. I plan to come back to this subject next week, when the full Top 100 list will be announced – but any of your comments meanwhile will be most welcome. 

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

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