Among the most interesting trends throughout the Pacific Northwest wine industry is the appreciation for the red grape tempranillo, the dominant variety in Spain’s famous Rioja region and one that produces deeply colored and full-bodied wines.
It is an early-ripening grape, pronounced temp-rah-KNEE-yo, that has been grown on the Iberian Peninsula for at least 2,000 years. In Portugal, it goes by the name tinta roriz, where it is a traditional part of port-style dessert wines. Globally, tempranillo is the world’s fourth-most planted grape.
In the Northwest, the first commercial planting of tempranillo was established by Earl Jones at Abacela Winery near Roseburg in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley. He established it in 1995, and his wines soon began winning gold medals around the world. Thanks to this, the Umpqua Valley and the rest of Southern Oregon is viewed as the Northwest epicenter for serious tempranillo production.
Recent research by Wine Business Monthly magazine revealed that only 5 percent of the 9,091 wineries in the U.S. produce a tempranillo. That includes 54 wineries in Washington.
Here are six examples of tempranillo from across the Northwest, all of which won gold medals at this year’s Cascadia International Wine Competition. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or order directly from the wineries.
Belle Fiore Winery 2014 Reserve Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, $39: Blackberry, plum, blueberry and baking spices meld the racy acidity expected from a youthful tempranillo. Its bittersweet chocolate tannins and lovely Montmorency cherry finish begs for cheese, hummus, olives and pate.
Spangler Vineyards 2014 Tempranillo, Oregon, $28: This wine from Pat Spangler, Wine Press Northwest magazine’s Oregon Winery of the Year, creates aromas of sweet tobacco, cherry and rose petals, which lead to bold flavors of cherries, toasted oak and vanilla. The big finish of smooth tannins and touch of leather will be served well with grilled portobellos or mushroom risotto.
Cinder Wines 2015 Tempranillo, Idaho/Washington, $30: Melanie Krause, who trained at Chateau Ste. Michelle before launching her winery in her hometown of Boise, develops notes of blackberry, graham cracker, plum and nutmeg in this example of tempranillo. Bright acidity and silky smooth tannins make this an easy drink.
Maryhill Winery 2015 Art den Hoed Vineyard Painted Hills Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $34: This marks just the latest vintage of award-winning tempranillo that Richard Batchelor has made as part of his Vineyard Series, featuring in this case, Painted Hills near Mabton, Washington. Lovely aromas of plum, blackberry and dates are nicely balanced on the solidly structured palate that makes room for a hint of mint on the finish.
Indian Creek Winery 2015 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley, $24: This past winter, founding winemaker Bill Stowe received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Idaho Wine Commission, and his winemaking son-in-law, Mike McClure, continues the pursuit of quality at Indian Creek. Their work with Idaho tempranillo produces a nose of red cherry, red currant and rose petal that carries along into flavors of cherry cola and red plum. Its tame tannins make way for a flourish of food-friendly acidity.
Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2015 Estate Winemaker’s Reserve Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, $29: There seem to be few grapes that Stephen Reustle can’t magically turn into gold-medal wines. His latest reserve temp opens with dark cherry, plum and smoke aromas. On the palate are dark cherries, purple plums, Baker’s chocolate and the bold tannins of a young tempranillo. Try it with grilled lamb or ribeye.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.