Grape of the night continues its quest for wine knowledge by exploring a varietal called Tempranillo that originated in Spain. In fact, it is known as the native, or noble, grape of Spain and is the backbone of many of the fine wines from Spain and Portugal. This varietal was believed to be related to Pinot Noir, however, ampelographic studies have shown this not to be the case. Tempranillo grapes have thick skins that contain a very high amount of anthocyanin which is responsible for producing the dark red color of the wine. The tannins are moderate making these wines very approachable by all.
These wines are definitely old world in terms of origin, dating back 2000 years during Roman times in the Ribera del Duero wine region of Spain. Another region of Spain that grows and produces fantastic wines made from Tempranillo is Rioja. Today we see this wine grown in many regions of Spain, Portugal, USA, Australia, Argentina, etc. In Portugal it is called Tinta Roriz and it is blended with other select varietals to produce those lovely Port wines that we all love on those cold winter nights or with a chocolate dessert.
The name Tempranillo means "little early one" because it ripens early and does well with a short growing season. This varietal adapts well to large diurnal temperature changes allowing it to be very successful, for example, in regions such as California. One of the problems with getting Tempranillo established in California was that it was originally planted in the Central Valley where it is hot. Tempranillos are not at their best when grown in this type of climate. The results of these first attempts at producing Tempranillo resulted in low quality wines that were only fit for jug wine blends. This changed once this varietal was better understood and planted in regions that were more conducive for this varietal. Now Tempranillo has evolved throughout the world as a fine wine that is enjoyed by many.
Tempranillo is generally blended with a small amount of other red wines due to a very unique characteristic of the vines. Tempranillo vine roots absorb potassium readily from the ground. The potassium causes the grapes chemistry to become more basic rather than maintaining a normal acid level required to brighten up or add crispness to the wine. To correct this chemical deficiency, selected red wines are blended with the Tempranillo therefore increasing the acid level adding the bright crispness required for a good wine.
Tempranillos are very unique in flavors and aromas. On the nose and palate you will get strawberry, plum, herbal, vanilla and tobacco. Many Tempranillos are aged in oak increasing the complexity of the wine. The oak barrels of choice are American by many of the Rioja wine makers. Oak barrels are the source of the vanilla that is found in many Tempranillo wines.
For this tasting the GOTN brought some very unique Tempranillos to sample and review. Examples were brought from Spain, California and Oregon. Each had different unique characteristics. Spain displayed the old world barnyard nose yet on the palate this aromatic disappeared into unique complexity. The wines from California and Oregon came through showing the typical fruits that are expected from a new world wine. Examples ranged from very dry to subtle sweetness on the palate. The soft flavor profile of these wines were spectacular.
In all, it was a fantastic evening that was enjoyed by all that attended. I would like to thank Valencia Wine Company for supporting our group and the ongoing goal of wine education. Abagail of VWC was spectacular making sure that all of the guests were taken care of. A standard that VWC has always maintained by Guy Lelarge (owner) and staff.
In closing, I would like to share one of my favorite quotes by Ernest Hemingway, “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
It is no secret to us wine lovers that the quality and perfection of the wines that we enjoy challenge all of our senses. This includes sight, smell and taste. This perfection is what wines and gatherings like GOTN are all about. Sampling and learning all we can about these wines is what continues to excite everyone. Until next time!