Tempranillo in the U.S.: A Learning Curve

2011 TAPAS event (photo by Ken Zinns)
TAPAS Tasting in San Francisco, photo courtesy Ken Zinns

Tempranillo– the grape whose Spanish incarnations as both traditional and modern-style Rioja I’ve been writing about here for the past few weeks–is highly versatile, food friendly and capable of great things. It’s understandable that it has developed fans in other parts of the wine-growing world, including an increasing number of growers and winemakers here in the U.S.

Tempranillo was originally planted in California’s hot, dry and flat Central Valley in the early 1900s. Not only was this the wrong location for it, but it was also then going under another name—early California winegrowers called it Valdepeñas. The poor quality juice that resulted ended up in jug wine blends.

It has only been in the last 20 years that Tempranillo has begun to be planted in more appropriate locations in the state, including a few vineyards in cooler climates and at higher altitudes. By 2011, a total of 929 acres had been planted, making it California’s 18th most widely planted red wine grape and, because of its relatively high yields, the 13th ranking red wine grape that year in terms of tonnage crushed, right below Cabernet Franc.

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Abacela’s Earl and Hilda Jones

Earl Jones, who had fallen for the relatively inexpensive but reliably delicious Tempranillo-based wines from Spain when he was a student in San Francisco in the 1960s, planted Oregon’s first Tempranillo in 1995. He is now producing some of the country’s best examples under his Abacela label. Tempranillo has also been planted in Arizona and Washington, and plantings in Texas’s Hill Country and High Plains regions, where soils are comparable to those of Northern Spain, have led to it becoming one of that state’s signature black grapes.

In 2006, a non-profit trade association of U.S. wineries and growers interested in Tempranillo and other Iberian grape varieties was formally launched, following meetings and discussions Earl Jones started with other growers three years earlier. This association—Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society, or TAPAS—organized its first annual tasting in 2008. I’ve now attended three of those tastings, including the fifth edition, held in San Francisco’s Fort Mason, this past June.

Not all U.S. producers of Tempranillo are represented at these tastings, but a substantial number are. Thanks to these tastings and others I’ve done, I’ve had a chance to sample 179 domestic single varietal bottlings of Tempranillo and Tempranillo blends to date.

For a grape with such a relatively short history of serious plantings, it is impressive how many relatively good bottlings there are. Nonetheless, it will probably be two or three decades yet before growers and winemakers have enough experience with the grape for us to see, on a regular basis, many Tempranillo-based wines at a level of quality approaching that found in wines from Spain’s Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions.

First Tempranillo vines planted in Washington State, at Red Willow Vineyard (photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The primary reason, of course, is that it takes decades of experimentation and experience with a grape—including trials in different vineyard sites and with different clones of a grape variety—before one typically finds the best combinations for a particular region and climate. For example, it took decades of experimentation with Pinot Noir in California by growers and winemakers who were highly passionate about the grape before California started to achieve consistently good quality results from Pinot starting in the mid-1990s.

The problem with a great many of the Tempranillos produced in the U.S. thus far is that they are too low in acidity and often lacking many of the varietal characteristics that make Tempranillo grown at higher altitudes, in cooler climates, and at controlled yields so very appealing.

I was reminded of what makes a truly great Tempranillo at a tasting this week of mature Riojas from most of Rioja’s leading traditional-style producers. All the wines in this tasting had at least medium acidity levels—keeping the wines fresh and interesting on the palate, and making them a good match with a variety of foods. Since the wines had also spent substantial amounts of time in oak barrels—anywhere from two to eight or more years—as well as additional time in bottle, they were also showing not only fine Tempranillo’s signature flavors of berry, plum, licorice and spice, but also delicious secondary characteristics that typically develop with barrel and bottle age: tobacco, leather, herbs, mushroom and cigar box aromas and flavors.

Few American Tempranillo vineyards are found at the higher altitudes, or in cooler locations and climates alternating dramatically between warm days and cold nights that one typically finds in Rioja. With the exception of cooler climate plantings in Southern Oregon’s Umpqua and Rogue valleys and California’s Santa Barbara region, most Tempranillo vineyards are still found in fairly warm regions, like California’s Central Valley, and its Livermore, Lodi and Paso Robles appellations.

To date, there has also been relatively little clonal selection available in the U.S. There is hope that new clones from Ribera del Duero will be available soon. I have not yet heard, however, of any of the low yielding Tempranillo Peludo that I’ve previously written about here being certified for domestic plantings.

The fact that there is an association of growers and winemakers devoted to Tempranillo is a very promising development, since dialogue amongst such growers will enable the sharing of successes and failures needed to prompt additional experimentation and innovation. I hope that TAPAS will also work toward greater information exchange with growers in Spain and elsewhere, so as to increase the amount of information and data points available to interested growers here.

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Longoria’s Richard and Diana Longoria

The very best domestic Tempranillo I’ve had to date, which I rated 93 points for both the 2007 and 2008 vintages, was from a producer that is not a TAPAS member, Oregon’s cult winery Cayuse. I’ve previously written about this producer’s excellent Syrahs and Rhone blends here. I’ve also had complex and flavorful Tempranillo that I’ve rated from 90 to 92 points from Core, Hovey, Justin, Kathryn Kennedy, Longoria, Mahoney, Turkovich and Yorba, all California producers. In Oregon, besides the Tempranillos from Abacela, I’ve been impressed with wines from Folin Cellars. The best Texas Tempranillos I’ve had to date, that I’ve rated 88 points, were from Lone Oak and Pedernales Cellars.

All the Tempranillos from these producers are more fruit forward in style, generally stressing black fruit, plum and tar, sometimes showing varietally typical licorice flavors as well. Given the lower acid levels in even the best of domestic Tempranillos, I don’t think these will be long aging wines, even though the high tannin levels of many of them cry out for at least two or three years of bottle age.

Chuck Hovey

Chuck Hovey

It is hard to recommend most domestic Tempranillos as value wines, since they typically run from $30 to $45, whereas very good and ready to drink Riojas are available for as low as $12 to $20. Core, Folin, Hovey and Mahoney are tasty exceptions, which can be found for as low as $20 or so. Nonetheless, for those interested in seeing what good domestic Tempranillo tastes like, I think you will be quite pleased with Tempranillos from virtually all of the producers listed above.

For my detailed tasting notes on Tempranillos and other Iberian varietal wines tasted at this year’s TAPAS tasting, see below.

2012 TAPAS (TEMPRANILLO ADVOCATES, PRODUCERS AND AMIGOS SOCIETY) TASTING – Fort Mason Festival Pavillon, San Francisco, California (6/9/2012)

The best Tempranillos and Tempranillo blends I tasted at this event, to which I gave ratings of 90 points or higher, were:
2005 Abacela Paramour – 91+ points
2008 Abacela Tempranillo – 90 points
2007 Abacela Tempranillo Reserve – 90+ points
2007 Core Tempranillo C3 – 90 points
2007 Core Tempranillo C3 Reserve – 91+ points
2007 Core Ground Around – 90+ points
2008 Folin Cellars Tempranillo – 90 points
2008 Folin Cellars Tempranillo Reserve – 90 points
2009 Longoria Tempranillo Clover Creek Vineyard – 90+ points
2007 Mahoney Tempranillo Las Brisas Vineyard – 91 points
2009 Mahoney Tempranillo Las Brisas Vineyard – 91+ points
2009 Turkovich Tempranillo Barrel Select – 90 points
2008 Yorba Tempranillo Shake Ridge – 90+ points
2007 Yorba Tempranillo – 92 points

The best white wines at this event, which I rated 90 points or higher, were:
2010 Core Grenache Blanc – 90+ points
2011 Harney Lane Albariño – 90 points
2011 Kenneth Volk Malvasia Bianca San Barnabe Vineyard – 90+ points
2011 Longoria Albariño Clover Creek Vineyard – 90 points
2010 Mahoney Albariño Las Brisas Vineyard – 90+ points
2011 Verdad Albariño Sawyer Lindquist – 90 points

The best other Iberian variety wines, ranging from rosé to dry reds to port-style wines, were:
2011 Abacela Grenache Estate Rosé – 91 points
2009 Abacela Port – 92 points
2008 Core Grenache Reserve Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard – 90+ points
2007 Core Mister Moreved Alta Mesa Vineyard – 91+ points
2007 Core Cuvée Fletcher Alta Mesa Vineyard – 92 points
2009 Quinta Cruz Touriga Pierce Ranch – 90+ points
2009 Quinta Cruz Graciano Quinta Cruz Bokisch Vineyard – 91 points
2009 Quinta Cruz Souzão Pierce Ranch – 90+ points
2006 Quinta Cruz Rabelo Pierce Ranch – 90 points

Abacela

  • 2011 Abacela Albariño Estate Grown – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley
    Light yellow color; citrus, tart peach nose; tart citrus, tart grapefruit palate with medium acidity; medium finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2011 Abacela Grenache Estate Rosé – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley
    Light medium orange pink color; tart cherry, tart red berry nose; tasty, dry, tart currant, mineral, tart blood orange palate, reminiscent of a full bodied Provence Rose; medium-plus finish (18 hours on skins) (91 pts.)
  • 2005 Abacela Paramour – Estate Grown – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley
    Very dark red violet color; sandalwood, tart berry nose; tight, dried berry, tart berry palate; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (24 mos. in barrique, 4 years in bottle) (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Abacela Tempranillo – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley
    Very dark red violet color; dried berry, tart black fruit nose soft, approachable, tart black fruit, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Abacela Tempranillo Estate Grown – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley
    Very dark purple red violet color; tart black fruit, plum, pie crust nose; tight, tart black fruit, dried berry palate; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (5% American oak) (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Abacela Tempranillo Reserve – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley
    Very dark ruby color; focused, tart berry, tart black fruit, tar nose; tight, tar, tart black fruit palate; needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Abacela Port – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley
    Very dark purple red violet color; appealing, ripe berry, berry compote, blackberry, vanilla nose; tasty, rich, blackberry, baked berries, violets palate; appealing now, but could use 5-plus years; long finish (92 pts.)

Berryessa Gap

  • 2011 Berryessa Gap Verdelho – USA, California, Central Valley, Yolo County
    Light yellow color; tart citrus, grapefruit nose; tart citrus, grapefruit palate; medium finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Berryessa Gap Tempranillo – USA, California, Central Valley, Yolo County
    Dark red violet color; ripe cherry, berry nose; ripe berry, tart cherry palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)

Bodegas M

  • 2010 Bodegas M Albariño Querida Jack Ranch Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Light lemon yellow color; tart pineapple, ripe lemon nose; soft, ripe pineapple palate; short-medium finish (8 mos in oak) (86 pts.)
  • 2008 Bodegas M Tempranillo Tinto de Paso – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium red violet color; diffuse, tart berry, light oak nose; tart berry, light oak, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano) (87 pts.)

Bodegas Paso Robles

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  • 2011 Bodegas Paso Robles Verdelho – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Very light yellow color; tart citrus, lemon nose; tart citrus palate; short finish 86+ points (86 pts.)
  • 2011 Bodegas Paso Robles Albariño Galicia – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Light yellow color; tart peach nose; ripe peach, apple palate; medium finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Bodegas Paso Robles Viva Yo – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Very dark red violet color; VA, tart currant nose; maturing, tart currant, tar palate; medium-plus finish (90% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Bodegas Paso Robles Vaca Negra – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium dark red violet color; lifted, tart plum nose; tart plum, ripe currant, cherry palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Bodegas Paso Robles pimenteiro Paso Robles – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium dark red violet color; VA, mature, Rioja-like nose; mature, tart red fruit, tart plum, red berry palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (67% Bastardo, 33% Tempranillo) (88 pts.)
  • 2005 Bodegas Paso Robles Solea – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Bricking very dark red violet color; redolent, baked berry, black fruit, prune nose; mature, baked berry, black fruit, prune palate; medium-plus finish (86% Tempranillo, 14% Graciano) (89 pts.)

Bokisch

Callaghan

Core

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  • 2010 Core Grenache Blanc – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Light yellow color; peach, ripe lime nose; ripe lime, peach, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Core Grenache Reserve Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Medium red color with pale meniscus; redolent, baked cherry, black cherry nose; baked cherry, black cherry palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Core Grenache Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Medium red color; redolent, tart plum, tart cherry, black cherry nose; tangy, tart plum, tart cherry, black cherry palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Core Tempranillo C³ – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Very dark red violet color; redolent, baked berry, cinnamon, baked plum nose; maturing, baked berry, cinnamon, baked plum palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Core Tempranillo C3 Reserve – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Very dark red violet color; maturing, tart cherry, floral, redolent nose; tasty, maturing, dried cherry, tart berry, baked berry palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Core Mourvedre Santa Barbara County – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Slightly cloudy medium red color; redolent, baked plum, tart cherry nose; maturing, tart cherry, tart plum palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Core Mister Moreved Alta Mesa Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Cloudy, opaque purple red violet color; baked berry, baked plum nose; tart black fruit, baked black fruit, tart berry, tar, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (93% Mourvedre, 7% Grenache) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Core Ground Around – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Slightly cloudy dark red violet color; VA, baked berry nose; maturing, baked berry, tart plum, dried cherry palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (50 mos in tank; blend of Tempranillo, Grenache, Syrah) (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Core Cuvée Fletcher Alta Mesa Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Very dark red violet color; redolent, tart berry, baked berry nose; tasty, tart berry, baked berry palate; medium-plus finish (89% Grenache, 11% Mourvedre) (92 pts.)

Crew Wine Co. (JL Giguiere)

  • 2009 JL Giguiere Match Book – USA, California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills
    Medium dark red violet color; baked black fruit, berry nose; tart berry, baked black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (88% Tempranillo, with Graciano and Cabernet) (84 pts.)
  • 2011 JL Giguiere Tempranillo Match Book – USA, California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills
    Light medium orange pink color; tart red currant nose; tart red currant palate; medium finish 86+ points (88% Tempranillo, with Syrah and Malbec) (86 pts.)
  • 2007 JL Giguiere Match Book Tinto Rey – USA, California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills
    Very dark red violet color; tart red berry, tart plum nose; tart red berry, tart plum palate; medium-plus finish (44% Tempranillo, 36% Syrah, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Graciano, 2% Petite Sirah) (86 pts.)

Crooked Road

  • 2010 Crooked Road Resurrection – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium red violet color; VA, tart cherry nose; tart cherry, tart framboise palate; medium finish (98% Tempranillo, 2% Grenache) (87 pts.)
  • 2010 Crooked Road Grenache – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium dark red violet color; tart cherry nose; tart cherry, red berry palate; medium-plus finish (86 pts.)

Dancing Coyote

  • 2011 Dancing Coyote Verdelho – USA, California, Central Valley, Clarksburg
    Light yellow color; tart citrus, tart lemon nose; tart lemon, tart grapefruit, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Dancing Coyote Albariño – USA, California, Central Valley, Clarksburg
    Light yellow color; oak, ripe lemon nose; ripe lemon, tart pear palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2010 Dancing Coyote Tempranillo El Dorado – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado
    Very dark ruby color; deep tart berry, violets nose; tasty, tart berry, tart black fruit palate; needs 1 years; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)

Delfino

  • 2009 Delfino Tempranillo – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley
    Medium red color; reticent, tart red berry nose; tart red berry, nondescript palate; medium finish (82 pts.)
  • 2010 Delfino Tempranillo – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley
    Medium dark red violet color; tart plum, baked plum nose; light-medium bodied, tart plum palate; medium finish (84 pts.)

Dubost

  • 2008 Dubost Tempranillo Starr Ranch – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark red violet color; mature, tart red plum nose; mature, tart red plum palate; medium-plus finish (86 pts.)

Fall Creek

Fenestra

  • 2011 Fenestra Verdelho – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Light yellow color; tart citrus nose; astringent, tart citrus, crab jus palate; medium finish (82 pts.)
  • 2009 Fenestra Tempranillo – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Medium dark cherry red color; deep baked berry, dried berry nose; baked berry, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Fenestra Tourvanillo Silvaspoons Vineyard – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Dark ruby color; dried berry, plum nose; dried berry, tart black fruit palate; medium finish (Touriga Nacional, Alvarelhao, Malbec, Tempranillo & Tinta Cao) (86 pts.)
  • 2008 Fenestra Alvarelhão Silvaspoons Vineyard – USA, California, Central Valley, Alta Mesa
    Dark cherry red color; VA, baked cherry nose; baked cherry, pomegranate palate; medium-plus finish (86 pts.)
  • 2007 Fenestra Touriga Nacional – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Dark ruby color; tart berry, baked berry nose; tart berry, baked berry, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)
  • 2008 Fenestra Tempranillo – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
    Dark ruby color; reduction, tart berry nose; tart berry, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Fenestra Grenache – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
    Medium cherry red color; baked cherry, black cherry nose; black cherry, baked cherry palate; medium finish (85 pts.)
  • 2004 Fenestra Port Silvaspoons Vineyard – USA, California, Central Valley, Alta Mesa
    Opaque purple red violet color; baked berry nose; baked berry nose; baked berry, baked plum palate; long finish (87 pts.)

Folin

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  • 2008 Folin Cellars Tempranillo – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Rogue Valley
    Dark red violet color; baked plum, tart berry nose; baked plum, tart berry palate; medium-plus finish (2 yrs in French oak 30% new) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Folin Cellars Tempranillo Reserve – USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Rogue Valley
    Very dark red violet color; redolent, dried berry, baked black fruit nose; dried berry, baked black fruit palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (2 barrels, French oak, 100% new, for 3 yrs) (90 pts.)

Forlorn Hope

Harney Lane

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  • 2011 Harney Lane Albariño – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Light yellow color; tart citrus, tart orange nose; tasty, tart citrus, ripe grapefruit, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Harney Lane Tempranillo – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Medium dark ruby color; smoke, baked berry nose; baked berry, smoke, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)

Kenneth Volk

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Longoria

  • 2011 Longoria Albariño Clover Creek Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Light yellow color; appealing, poached pear, tart peach nose; tasty, tart peach, tart pear palate; medium-plus finish (stainless steel, no malolactic) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Longoria Tempranillo Clover Creek Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Medium cherry red color; floral, tart berry, light black fruit nose; delicate, tart cherry, tart berry, tart black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (22 mos in 1000% American oak, 35% new; with 3% Syrah; 8 yr old vines) (90 pts.)

Mahoney

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Metate Hill

  • 2010 Metate Hill Vineyards Albariño Acero – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Calaveras County
    Light yellow color; ripe citrus, orange nose; low acidity, orange cream palate; medium finish (83 pts.)
  • 2009 Metate Hill Vineyards Garnacha – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Calaveras County
    Bricking, light medium red color; VA, baked cherry nose; baked cherry palate; short-medium finish (84 pts.)
  • 2009 Metate Hill Vineyards Tempranillo – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Calaveras County
    Dark red violet color; tart black fruit nose; tart berry, tart black fruit palate; medium finish (86 pts.)

Odisea

  • 2011 Odisea Albariño Dream – USA, California, Central Valley, Clements Hills
    Light yellow color; citrus nose; tart citrus palate; medium finish (86 pts.)
  • 2011 Odisea Veritable Quandry – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Light yellow color; tart citrus, grapefruit nose; tart citrus, grapefruit palate; medium finish (blend of Verdelho, Torrontes, Albarino, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Vermentino and Viognier) (87 pts.)
  • 2010 Odisea Unusual Suspects – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Dark ruby color; tart berry, tart black fruit nose; tart black fruit, dried berry, tar palate; medium-plus finish (blend of Carignane, Tempranillo, Grenache, Cinsault) (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Odisea Tempranillo The Temp – USA, California, Central Valley, Clements Hills
    Medium dark red violet color; reduction, tart plum nose; reduction, tart plum, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Odisea Tres Tintos – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Opaque purple red violet color; brett, tart black fruit nose; brett, tart black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha) (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Odisea Tempranillo Temporary Insanity – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Very dark purple red violet color; brett, tart plum nose; brett, tart plum palate; medium-plus finish (86 pts.)

Pierce Ranch

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  • 2009 Pierce Albariño Sur Lie Pierce Ranch – USA, California, Central Coast, Monterey County
    Light yellow color; poached pear, baked apple nose; poached pear, baked apple palate; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)
  • 2010 Pierce Albariño – USA, California, Central Coast, San Antonio Valley
    Light yellow color; tart peach nose; tart peach, citrus palate; medium finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Pierce Verdelho Pierce Ranch – USA, California, Central Valley, Alta Mesa
    Light medium yellow color; tart apple nose; apple, peach palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2008 Pierce Tempranillo – USA, California, Central Coast, San Antonio Valley
    Very dark red violet color; mature, tart plum, dried cherry nose; mature, tart plum, dried cherry palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Pierce Touriga Nacional – USA, California, Central Coast, San Antonio Valley
    Very dark red violet color; reduction, tart berry nose; tart berry, reduction palate; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Pierce Cosecheiro – USA, California, Central Coast, San Antonio Valley
    Very dark red violet color; appealing, tart berry, dried berry nose; tasty, tart berry, dried berry, tart currant palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Pierce Tinto Cão – USA, California, Central Coast, San Antonio Valley
    Cloudy dark red violet color; tart plum, tart red berry nose; tart plum, tart red berry palate; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)

Quinta Cruz

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  • 2011 Quinta Cruz Verdelho Alta Mesa – USA, California, Central Valley, Alta Mesa
    Light yellow color; tart pear, citrus nose; tart pear, citrus palate; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Quinta Cruz Tempranillo Pierce Ranch – USA, California, Central Coast, San Antonio Valley
    Medium dark cherry red color; tart cherry, red berry nos; tart cherry, red berry, spice palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Quinta Cruz Touriga Pierce Ranch – USA, California, Central Coast, San Antonio Valley
    Medium dark ruby color; intriguing, baked berry, redolent nose; tasty, baked berry, baked cherry palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Quinta Cruz Graciano Quinta Cruz Bokisch Vineyard – USA, California, Central Valley, Clements Hills
    Dark red violet color; redolent, baked cherry, baked berry nose; tasty, plush, baked cherry, baked berry palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Quinta Cruz Tempranillo Reserve Pierce Ranch – USA, California, Central Coast, San Antonio Valley
    Medium dark cherry red color; mature, baked berry, baked cherry nose; mature, baked berry, baked cherry palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Quinta Cruz Souzão Pierce Ranch – USA, California, Central Valley, Alta Mesa
    Very dark purple red violet color; appealing, baked berry, baked cherry nose; tasty, baked berry, baked cherry palate; long finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2006 Quinta Cruz Rabelo Pierce Ranch – USA, California, Central Coast, San Antonio Valley
    From 375 ml – dark red violet color; appealing, baked berry, baked cherry nose; tasty, rich, baked berry, dried cherry palate; long finish (90 pts.)

Riaza

  • 2010 Riaza Wines Albariño Terra Alta – USA, California, Central Valley, Clements Hills
    Light yellow color; tart peach, oak nose; tart peach, oak palate; medium finish 86+ points (86 pts.)
  • 2010 Riaza Wines Garnacha Terra Alta – USA, California, Central Valley, Clements Hills
    Medium cherry red color; tart cherry, red berry nose; tart cherry, red berry palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2008 Riaza Wines Tempranillo Bray Vineyard – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County
    Medium dark red violet color; reduction, tart red berry nose; baked berry, oak palate; medium-plus finish (86 pts.)

Six Sigma Ranch

  • 2007 Six Sigma Ranch Tempranillo – USA, California, North Coast, Lake County
    Very dark ruby color; brett, tart red fruit nose; brett, tart red fruit palate; medium-plus finish (84 pts.)

St. Jorge

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  • 2009 St. Jorge Winery Souzão – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Dark red violet color; red berry nose; plush, red berry, tart cherry palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2010 St. Jorge Winery Tempranillo – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Very dark red violet color; tart berry, dried berry nose; tart berry, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish 87+ points (87 pts.)
  • 2010 St. Jorge Winery Trincadeira – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Medium dark red violet color; tart red berry nose; red berry, tart cherry palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2008 St. Jorge Winery Tinto Cão – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Dark red violet color; tart red berry nose; tart red berry, ripe currant palate; medium-plus finish 87+ points (87 pts.)
  • 2011 St. Jorge Winery Verdelho Silvaspoons Vineyard – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Light yellow color; tart peach nose; tart peach, citrus palate; medium finish (88 pts.)

Starr Ranch

  • 2009 Starr Ranch Tempranillo Orion – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Medium dark red violet color; tart berry nose; mature, tart berry, tart plum palate; medium finish 87+ points (blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Mourvedre) (87 pts.)

Turkovich Family

Verdad

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Viader

  • 2009 Viader Tempranillo Dare – USA, California, Napa Valley, Chiles Valley
    Dark ruby color; ripe red berry, tart plum nose; tart red berry, tar palate with integrating oak; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)

Yorba

June 2012 016

  • 2008 Yorba Tempranillo Shake Ridge – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County
    Dark purple red violet color; tart berry, reduction nose; tight, tart black fruit, tar palate; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Yorba Tempranillo – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County
    Dark purple red violet color; deep plum, tart black fruit, violets nose; tasty, tart black fruit, plum, tart berry palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
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7 Responses to Tempranillo in the U.S.: A Learning Curve

  1. Valley View in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley was unable to attend TAPAS this year but wants to thank you for sharing this information about Tempranillo. With perhaps the oldest Tempranillo in the Northwest (40 year old vines) Valley View produced excellent Tempranillos that are also great values. In Oregon and parts of Washington the 2008 and soon 2009 Tempranillos are only $14.99 a bottle. I agree that America Tempranillos has improved quickly throughout the past decade but are generally being grown (like Viognier) in areas that are too hot. Valley View Tempranillo are usually harvested at the very end of the season (Oct.15-Nov. 10) at 23-24 sugar. This results in wines that are complex without too much alcohol, jamminess or residual sugar. I hope to showcase our wines for you in the future.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Mark,
      Thank you for your comment and additional information. I have tried some past vintages of Valley View’s Tempranillo, but look forward to trying the ’08 and ’09.
      Warm regards,
      Richard

  2. I guess my real question as a truly passionate lover of Rioja wines is, why would I turn to a Tempranillo from the US? I realize most folks who may come to try these wines may not be totally familiar with Tempranillo based wines from Spain like Rioja or Ribera del Duero, so it may just develop independently here in the US with it’s own expression? On another note, I hope you will be writing about your recent mature Rioja tasting quite soon! Cheers, Greg

  3. Joe Schnerr says:

    We are having a lot of fun with Tempranillo in the Snake River Valley AVA. My wife, Melanie Krause, is the winemaker for our label…Cinder and we have had quite a bit of success working with our higher elevation vineyards here in southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon. Hopefully we can join TAPAS next year and continue to share information and experiences with fellow wimemakers and vineyard owners. This past summer we had a wonderful trip to Rioja and the Ribera (man it was hot in the Ribera when we were there!)….and one thing that struck me was the serving temperature of the reds…It seemed they were almost all swerved a bit cooler then you would experience in the US. Has anyone else encountered this? I thought it was an acknowledgement of the hot season but I’m not sure. It really changed the experience of the wines. Great article!

  4. Earl Jones says:

    Thanks Richard for your interest in Tempranillo and the excellent coverage of the June 2012, TAPAS Grand tasting.
    After 20 years of a pined love for Tempranillo I relocated to Southern Oregon twenty years ago so that I could actively pursue the production of fine wine from this grape in America. The learning curve, albeit steep has been an exhilarating climb. In 1993 I ordered the three tempranillo cultivars then available from UC Davis (UC-D clones 1,2 & Valdepenas-1) grafted to various rootstocks by California nurseries and planted them at Abacela in 1995.
    By the year 2005 my neighbors were requesting tempranillo cuttings and many like Mark Wisnovsky (Aug 16 comment) top grafted over old Cabernet or Pinot noir vines to tempranillo. That was a step forward but unfortunately, most of these old vines were own rooted.
    Subsequently, thanks to Davis’s expanding collection of cultivars I have been able extend production trials at Abacela with selected UC-D Tempranillo clones including 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13 as well as Tinta Roriz-1. Trialing these cultivars on different rootstocks, albeit slow has been very rewarding and given us a vision to the future. It now appears that UC-D clones 5, 11 and 13 are clearly superior when farmed at the “climatic edge” in my soils on site matched rootstocks. I would like to say these are the best tempranillo cultivars but given that production trials with this grape are complicated by the wine’s unique requirement for extended barrel and bottle ageing means that it may be another decade before the results are definitive.
    In reply to Greg Sorensen (blog comment 17 Aug) I would ask his him the question; why didn’t earlier generations of American wine aficionados, viticulturists and enologists accept Crljenak Kaštelanski (or Primitivo) wines and the wines of Bordeaux as adequate and forgo develop of these varieties in America? Perhaps it is for the same reason that drives the 100 plus TAPAS members today and others like Joe Schnerr (blog comment 17 Aug) to grow a better glass of tempranillo.
    Earl Jones

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Earl,

      Many thanks for your comment, and the terrific information on the clones you are working with and how those trials are progressing. Thanks also for your important leadership role in the domestic Tempranillo movement.

      –Richard

  5. Richard:

    We and a few others have been growing Tempranillo in a very cool climate, the Northern Willamette Valley, since at least 2002. The wines show the characteristics you would expect from a cooler climate, and are quite different than those produced in Southern Oregon.

    We now have 5 clones of Tempranillo planted at our vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. I agree with your comment that it will take decades, although we are quite pleased with the wines even at this early stage.

    Regards,

    Bill Holloran

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