Seattle Wine Blog

This blog is dedicated to commentary on all aspects of wine, especially short entries to help you find the best wines without the usual hype and spin. These are my frank, independent opinions, usually based on tasting wine at a public event, off the shelf or at the winery. "All creative acts must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of place" -D.H. Lawrence

Friday, January 28, 2011

American Sketches of Spain -Tempranillo

While Spain may not have successfully transformed its economy, it has radically transformed its wine. Back in the 1970s there was a lot of bad wine in Spain. Of course, there were some wonderful traditional wines with that distinctive smokiness, just perfectly matched to traditional foods such Roast Suckling Pig and Cabrito, Roasted Goat. More than any other European country, Spain has successfully created New World style wines in the Old World. Both Spanish food and wine have lightened up. The wine is younger, fresher, fruitier, and friendlier than those big old towers of smoke.

Tempranillo is the flagship grape of Spain. Originally the main grape in the Rioja region, it has spread throughout the counrtry and around the world. As a result of globalization, Spain adopted American technology such as stainless steel fermentation tanks, and America adopted Tempranillo. We wanted to see  the result so we had a comparison tasting of Tempranillo from Spain, Washington, Oregon and California. Five of the wines were tasted single blind with our friends, Hans and Trude, and three were tasted stark naked with our friends Norm and Verni. The results were eye-opening.

Here are the results of the blind tasting ( 1=highest)


1.75    2006 Lan Rioja, Rioja, Spain - about $15 in supermarkets

2.13    2007 Pomum Tinto, Columbia Valley, Wa.- about $30 at the winery

2.37    2007 Opolo Tempranillo, Paso Robles, Ca. - about $30 at the winery

3.13    2009 Temenal, Yecla, Spain - about $4 at Trader Joe's

3.50    2006 Dominio IV "Sketches of Spain", Columbia Gorge, Or.- about $25

So, one could simplistically say that the Rioja was the winner and the Sketches of Spain the loser, but this is not so. There was so much variability among ratings that these are probably not meaningful differences. One of our number was a winemaker who was rating to his prototype of Tempranillo rather than simple hedonistic pleasure. All of the wines were good, but made in different styles. The blow away wine was the "Tinto" from Washington. So Spanish in style, yet fresher, fruitier and rounder than the Lan. Perhaps this should be no surprise as it was made by a winemaker from Spain, Javier Alfonso, a Boeing engineer who lives in Seattle.The Opolo was big, round and fruity, very American, very California. The Dominio had more tannin and seemed to need some more age, though it would be fine now with a roast or stew. The "Joker" or "Ringer", the "Four Buck Tempranillo" from Trader Joe did quite well. It was much rougher with too much tannin and acid, but it, too would go well with food. Don't try this one as a cocktail alone!

Is Tempranillo the next new thing? It may be a little early to tell ( tempranillo means a little early in Spanish), but it definitely is a candidate, especially in Washington. Since the overall quality in this tasting was so high, we thought we would check out a few more wines. We tasted two different vintages of Montobuena Rioja (about $10 at Total Wines), the 07 and 09. The 09 was lighter brighter and more acidic than the 07 which was more structured, more balanced and fuller flavored. We had the the 09 with the salad, the 07 with the Chicken Tagine, and the 06 Abecela Tempranillo, from Rio Vineyard in Southern Oregon, with the appetizer. Abecela was a Northwest pioneer with Tempranillo, but I've always found it to be kind of flat and dry. It did have enough fruit in it for one taster to describe it as being like Merlot. More good Tempranillo!

It looks like Spain has joined its former colonies in the New World, Argentina and Chile, in making high quality wine at reasonable prices. And North America, seems to have taken Tempranillo to a new level of fullness and fruitiness. Is Tempranillo the next new thing? It's a lttle early to tell. 


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