Throughout the Northwest — indeed, around the northern hemisphere — winemakers are beginning to harvest Tempranillo, a red wine grape made famous in Spain’s Rioja region.
Tempranillo gets its name from the Spanish word “temprano,” which translates to “early.” It is so named because of its tendency to ripen earlier than many other varieties.
Tempranillo is considered Spain’s greatest grape variety, thanks to its ability to be crafted into a robust and age-worthy wine. Earl Jones, owner of Abacela Vineyards & Winery near Roseburg, Ore., is credited with raising Tempranillo’s profile in the Northwest when he planted it in 1995. Since then, Tempranillo has been further planted in Oregon, as well as Washington, Idaho and British Columbia. Though it still is produced in fairly small amounts, more winemakers are crafting Tempranillo and introducing it to a wine-loving public.
Here are a few Tempranillos we have tasted recently:
Tagaris Winery 2007 Tempranillo, Wahluke Slope, $35: On the warm Wahluke Slope, Mike Taggares is well-known as one of the region’s top Fuji apple growers, and his winery (which uses a Greek spelling of the family name) is gaining in reputation, thanks to the skills of winemaker Frank Roth. This Tempranillo opens with aromas of roasted coffee, black cherries and portobello mushrooms, followed by flavors of licorice, Bing cherries and a touch of oak.
Desert Wind Winery 2008 Desert Wind Vineyard Tempranillo, Wahluke Slope, $20: This Prosser winery with estate vineyards on the arid Wahluke Slope has crafted a luscious and affordable Tempranillo. It opens with aromas of huckleberries, strawberries and tobacco, followed by flavors of boysenberries and huckleberries.
Abacela Vineyards & Winery 2007 Tempranillo Cuvée, Southern Oregon, $20: Earl Jones’ Fault Line Vineyards form the broad base of this, which is perhaps his smoothest young Temp to date. The nose is of Bing cherries, brown sugar, green peppercorns and Almond Joy. Cherries are joined by blueberries and blackberries on the easy entry to the mouth. Bold acidity and building tannins give way to a long and tasty finish of Cherry Garcia ice cream.
Kana Winery 2006 Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $18: Winemaker Ben Grossman adds a splash of Grenache to craft a superb red wine for this Yakima winery. It opens with aromas of blackberries, plums and horehound candy, followed by rich flavors of marionberries, licorice and a hint of oak.
Folin Cellars 2006 Estate Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, $25: This wine opens with aromas of strawberries, red currants, rose hips, oak and spices, followed by flavors of red berries, licorice and chocolate. Its tannins and acidity are beautifully balanced and offer a lengthy finish.
Zerba Cellars 2007 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $38: This superb Tempranillo opens with aromas of jammy blackberries, ripe cherries and even dolmas, followed by rich, ripe flavors of plums and opulent berries. It hints at a bit of sweetness with plenty of acidity.
Three Rivers Winery 2007 Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $29: Winemaker Holly Turner has been at the helm of this Walla Walla Valley showcase winery for several years and shows her versatility with this Spanish variety. It reveals aromas of warm summer blackberries and a hint of teriyaki, followed by flavors of blackberries and dark chocolate, all backed with moderate tannins.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2007 Destiny Ridge Vineyards Estate Tempranillo, Horse Heaven Hills, $55: Owner/winemaker Jarrod Boyle’s Tempranillo opens with alluring aromas of ripe strawberries, raspberries, lilacs and violets, followed by luscious flavors of huckleberries, Saskatoon berries and blackberries. It’s a big, dark wine with ample tannins and a delicious chocolate finish.
Sweet Valley Wines 2008 Righteous Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $24: This big red uses grapes from famed Les Collines Vineyard and opens with aromas of roasted red bell peppers, boysenberries and pomegranates, followed by flavors of marionberries, blueberry tea and black cherries.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.