In recent weeks I have been excitedly promoting California wines made from Iberian grape varieties. Imagine my surprise when, earlier this week, while grocery shopping at my local produce store (Monterey Market for you locals) I came upon a bin full of freshly picked Tempranillo grapes.
These large clusters of small, dark grapes were irresistible, especially for someone in my line of work. The fruit was sweet and ripe with thick skins and big seeds. I was pleasantly surprised that these were delicious grapes to eat out of hand, something I had not expected from a wine grape.
The availability of fresh Tempranillo reinforces my opinion that this Spanish grape is becoming more popular here with each passing harvest.
This week we have a new California Tempranillo from Paso Robles. This latest addition brings the number of domestic wines at The Spanish Table to a whopping total of eight. This small collection will continue to grow as we find more wines that come from Iberian varieties and express something of the traditional Spanish or Portuguese style.
Meanwhile, the latest arrivals from Spain are coincidentally all Tempranillo this week. I even have a newly arrived blend of Tempranillo and Malbec from Argentina, further proof that this is a grape to watch in the near term.
Coral Mustang Tempranillo 2004 Sourced from the Vista Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, this 100% Tempranillo wine is produced in small (400 cases) quantities by Penelope Gadd-Coster and her husband Frank Coster at their family winery in Healdsburg. This dark, spicy red wine expresses the rich side of Tempranillo that shows some similarity to the Tempranillo wines of the Toro region in Spain where the grape goes by the name Tinta de Toro. Coral Mustang Tempranillo is aged in second use oak barrels for 13 months which imparts a note of tannic complexity to the final product. The wine is bottled without filtration, adding to the initial impression of richness. Let this wine breath a bit before serving and the more nuanced elements (sweet red berries, black pepper, pomegranate) will come forward. $18.99
Urban Uco 2006 José Manuel Ortega founded Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier in 2000.
A banker by trade and Spanish by birth, Ortega followed his passion for wine to Argentina where he started a winery in the Uco Valley region of Mendoza province. He bought land for vineyards (currently he owns over 700 acres of which 230 are planted) and in 2004 completed a winery/hotel/restaurant complex where the wines are made. Urban Uco 2006 is a 50/50 blend of Tempranillo and Malbec from the Uco Valley in the Mendoza province. The high altitude bush vines, many of them over twenty years old, produce a wine that combines the power of Malbec with the finesse of Tempranillo. This lightly (3 months) oaked blend shows gentle barrel tannins and balanced fruit character. $10.99
Urban Roble 2005 Meanwhile, back in Spain, José Manuel Ortega bought a winery in the Ribera del Duero region. The San Juan López winery was renamed Bodegas O. Fournier after the purchase in 2002. In addition to a winery dating from 1979, the purchase included 260 acres of land, 150 acres of which are established vineyards with 80 acres planted to old vine Tinta del País (Tempranillo). Urban Roble 2005 is a young red wine that exhibits abundant regional style. This robust young wine is composed of local Tinta del País grapes sourced from old vines. After fermentation the wine ages in small oak barrels for 4 months before bottling. The dark garnet color mimics aromas and flavors of ripe dark berries. Tannic oak adds contrast without overwhelming the rich fruit character. Background notes include chalky minerality and a bit of spice on the finish. $13.99
Izadi Crianza 2005 The latest vintage of this all Tempranillo wine from the heart of Rioja is made by young (UC Davis educated) Lalo Anton who is slowly taking over winemaking responsibility at Bodegas Villabuena from his father Gonzalo. Izadi is a traditionally styled Rioja where long periods of oak barrel ageing are followed by further maturation in bottle before release. This Crianza wine spent 12 months in barrel followed by an additional 12 months in bottle. Firm barrel tannins dominate the initial impression, followed closely by tart red berry fruit character. This bold, assertive wine is ready to enjoy right away but will age gracefully for years to come. $19.99
Villacreces Reserva 2001 Finca Villacreces was founded in 1994 by Pedro Garcia-Cuadrado in the heart of the Ribera del Duero region of Northern Spain. The property, which was purchased by the Anton family (the owners of Izadi in Rioja) in 2003, has 105 acres of vineyard, much of it older vines but, with new plantings in progress, will soon have 160 acres in production. Villacreces Reserva 2001 is dark, rich and full bodied. A blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot, the wine is opaque purple in color with aromas and flavors of black cherries, cocoa powder and cedar. The substantial barrel tannins are fairly well resolved by now and the wine leaves a final impression of freshness combined with rich elegance. $36.99
Cillar de Silos Crianza 2005 The latest vintage of this full bodied Ribera del Duero is now available. Dark garnet hue and powerful aromas of ripe berries assert the bold character of this wine. A year in oak adds substantial tannins which integrate well with the expressive black cherry fruit character. Earth and mineral notes underlie the rest of the flavors and aromas. $29.99