A quick visit to Spain without leaving Juneau

Tasters sample six locally-available Tempranillos

Posted: Thursday, November 26, 2009

This month's tasting focused on Tempranillo, a single varietal grown throughout the world that does particularly well in Spain, specifically in the region of La Rioja. As Spain produces most of the great Tempranillos it is of little wonder that all the wines selected for this month's tasting panel did come from that part of the world.

Once again, tasters were given no information about the wine-maker or country of origin. Many of the panel participants had little or no experience with this varietal, and although it was my goal to expose all of us to the wine from this grape alone, a few of the entry wines were in fact blends. While all wines are generally blends, they must contain at least 75 percent of the varietal with which they are labeled. In this case, all the wines were all at least 85 percent Tempranillo, with some containing the common Spanish varietals of Graciano and Granacha, as well as Mazuleo.

Another important factor to note with this tasting is that three of the six wines tasted were labeled "reserva," a designation which in Spain requires that the wine be aged at least three years, one of which in an oak cask. This process has a great influence on the wine, not only in its flavor but also in its general characteristics, and can often be recognized quite quickly through the bouquet or "nose" of the wine. Notes of vanilla, wood and toast as well as herbaceous tones are common indicators that oak has been used in the wine-making process.

This month's tasting proved to be much more of a challenge than the previous tasting, as the lack of diversity of the wines represented was evident in the results; all the wines were well-received. In order to be fair I have elected to give brief overview of all six and leave the selection to the consumer.

One of the top three wines was most definitely 2003 Roda Reserva, Rioja. Similar to all the Tempranillos tasted, this wine was a beautiful garnet color with slight earthy tones and those of sweet caramel. One of panel members wrote "very nice and very smooth; complex, yet not confusing."

Another of the top three was certainly the 2004 Ramon Bilbao Reserva, Rioja. The 20 months that this wine spent aging in oak casks was evident throughout the wine. Panel members described it as "smooth," although "big" in flavor and body.

A bit less oak allowed the fruit to shine through on the 2006 Torres Coronas. Easier to drink than many of the wines tasted, it was a clear favorite with a few members of the tasting panel, while those with a propensity to love oaky flavors leaned in the opposite direction. This wine was definitely solid and among the top three. It was described as "rosy" or "floral," without being too overpowering. The wine was a clear example of the different personal tastes represented at the tasting.

One of the "reserva" wines tasted was the 2004 Campo Viejo Reserva. This wine was interesting as it bridged the gap between fruit-driven and oak-driven wine, maintaining a soft impression. This wine certainly took the middle path and was described as simply "nice and easy."

A more fruit-driven style of Tempranillo was evident in the Castillo de Monjardin. This wine also showed well but wasn't as distinct as many of the others. Easily approachable, it was described as "a great place to start a meal." There was no oak used in the making of this wine and it clearly showed. It was much less intimidating in its straight-forwardness. One of the panel members noted, "the more I taste of this wine, the more I like it." Perhaps it just takes a moment to get to know this wine. It should be noted that this wine was the only one of the six that used no oak during processing, and for that reason almost shouldn't have been shown in relation to the other wines, as it differs greatly in how it was made.

Last but not least was the 2007 Spanish Sons Tempranillo. Like the other wines, it was a beautiful garnet color, with hints of vanilla on the nose and flavors of cherry and ripe fruit. This was another solid wine and good example of a nice Spanish Tempranillo.

The six wines were all very well made and showed little or no defects. The only factor determining favorites was the use of oak in the production process. In retrospect, this factor alone almost warranted two separate tastings: one composed of unoaked tempranillos and one composed strictly of reservas. But the main lesson learned is that Tempranillos can be a good alternative to the more common varietals found at the local stores, and will be on all of our lists as something fun and different.

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