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What To Drink Now: Tempranillo

Happy Tempranillo Day!  Yep, today we celebrate the 4th most largely planted grape in the world.  Most people know Tempranillo as the youthful, jammy and often overly extracted red from the Rioja region of Spain, but Tempranillo goes far beyond the Rioja borders, creating dense, earthy and intense reds from the Ribera Del Duero region, to the refined, powerful, often tannic reds of  Toro, to the covering the vast vineyards of La Mancha, to traveling outside of Spain into Portugal, Turkey, South and North America and Australia.  It can be tricky to identify the Tempranillo variety just by looking at a bottle though, as each region, and often each village within that region, in Spain has adapted their own style of Tempranillo, and call it by different names, like Cencibel in La Mancha, Tinta de Toro in Toro, Tinta del País in Ribera del Duero and Tinto Fino in other areas.

No matter what you call it, it is a variety that will produce world class, highly acclaimed wines with character, personality, a true sense of place and when stored properly, will age beautifully.  Here are a few great Tempranillo wines to consider that are high quality and an incredible value.  A few selections were sent for editorial consideration.

On Monday James Tidwell, MS, CWE, of The Four Seasons Resort at Las Colinas and Melissa Monosoff, MS, of Pioneer Wines joined the Drink Ribera campaign, leading a seminar on the wines of Ribera del Duero, discussing the region, the wines and the nuances of the area, especially meaningful as the duo had recently returned from a trip to the region.  Discussing the topography and the climate of the region really drove home how and why the wines of this region are so special, as very hot days yield to very cool nights, allowing big, intensely fruit filled, sun ripened wines to be matched with high, yet balanced acidity that keeps the wine vibrant and though high in tannin, are approachable young and will just get better with age.  A few selections from the region we tried throughout the day stood out, including a favorite from Monosoff, an intensely earthy and robust yet beautifully balanced Vinedos Y Bodega Aster S.L Crianza 2006. Filled with mushroom, leather and tobacco were mixed with ripe black cherry and blackberry.

A few other outstanding selections from Ribera del Duero include the wines of Valdubon, a member of the Ferrer family of wines.   From their introductory Cosecha to their Crianza and their Reserva, all the same Tinta del País variety just aged differently, these wines are lush, velvety and balanced.  The Valdubon Crianza continues to be one of the best bang for your buck wines, aged 13 months in 67% American and 33% French oak barrels (Tempranillo and American oak go hand in hand creating vanilla and coconut flavor profile) and a minimum of 11 months in the bottle, creating a wine filled with layers of vanilla, spice, juicy plum and cherry notes and a good balance between acidity and tannin, and costs about $15 a bottle.  The Cosecha has a similar profile, without the pronounced vanilla and spice as it is not aged in oak, keeping the wine fresh and fruit forward with dried herb and floral notes.  The Reserva is much bolder, earthier and tannic, aged 17 months in 50% French/50% American oak barrels from 30+ year old vines, the wine is filled with smoke, dried fruit and spice with richness and intensity, making this the ideal to serve with grilled meat or lamb.

Pingus is potentially one of the finest wines not only made in Ribera del Duero, but the world, embracing Old World tradition with modern technique to create an earthy, intense and easily recognizable wine with structure, balance and personality.  Made from old vine Tempranillo without fining or filtering to keep the true flavor of the wine intact, Pingus defines how good Tempranillo can be, with hearty layers of leather, licorice, fruit and oak, wrapped in a balanced blanket of dried flowers and spice.  Flor de Pingus is a slightly more economically approachable wine, aged just 14 months instead of the 18 Pingus is and made from vines that are not quite as old as those of Pingus, but still delivering on quality and exceptional taste.

The wines of Bodega Numanthia from the Toro region are some of the most delicate, elegant and refined wines I have had from Tempranillo, interesting as this region has typically been known for creating over the top tannic, powerful reds made with their version of Tempranillo, Tinta de Toro.  Numanthia winemaker Manuel Louzada has a very delicate touch with his wines though, creating highly concentrated wines with structure and acidity from grapes grown in bush vines.  Numanthia Numanthia, the mid-tier wine of Bodega Numanthia defines Louzada’s goal of a winemaker to take the terroir and translate it to the wine, accentuating the ripe fruit, earthiness, tannin, high concentration and strength, yet lovely, refined and very elegant.

Delia Viader of Viader Winery in Napa Valley has defined herself as the winemaker who doesn’t stay safe with the normal varietals, making a name for herself for her single variety Cabernet Franc, before anyone else was really featuring it in Napa Valley.  She has always had a love of Tempranillo as well, highlighting the grape in her Dare Tempranillo, filled with blackberry, boysenberry and licorice, only 300 cases of this food friendly wine are produced each year from Viader’s Howell Mountain fruit.

Tempranillo is one variety that shines in Texas, and several wineries are doing a great job with it.  McPherson Cellars in the Texas High Plains (near Lubbock) features Tempranillo in their La Herencia blend, combining it with Mourvedre (12%), Grenache (5%), and Syrah (5%).  Though founder Doc McPherson was the first in the state to plant Sangiovese, his son Kim, who today runs the winery, has found a way to celebrate the potential of Texas wine through Tempranillo.  Filled with layers of dried fruit, tobacco, licorice, mocha and toasted oak, this is a wine to be enjoyed with rich stews, barbecue or beef dishes.

Inwood Estates Vineyards has been growing and producing award winning  Tempranillo from vines planted in Yoakum County, Texas since the mid-2000′s when Dan Gatlin and his wife Mary Rose Gatlin established their business in 2004.  Blending their Tempranillo with Cabernet Sauvignon Inwood Estates was one of the first to show how well Tempranillo could grow in America, and Texas.  Leather, earth and dried herbs meld with cherry and berry flavors with good balance, structure and a long finish.