Tasting the Elusive Tempranillo

Last year’s emerging varietal winner—the savory Spanish grape Tempranillo—was put to the taste test.
Shannon Borg  |   August 2012   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

With all the experimentation going on in Washington wine, some winemakers and viticulturists see the dry, hot conditions of parts of eastern Washington as the perfect climate for Spanish varieties. Washington has grown the fruity Grenache (Garnacha in Spanish) for years, and now Tempranillo, a savory grape, has found a following.

When we highlighted this grape last year, Dr. Wade Wolfe of Thurston Wolfe Winery called the varietal “a natural” for warm areas such as Horse Heaven Hills and the Wahluke Slope, and lauded its soft, spicy characteristics. In our blind tasting of more than two dozen Tempranillos, several lesser-known small, boutique wineries turned heads, such as Stottle Winery in Lacey, Patit Creek in Dayton and South Seattle’s Fall Line.

When judging a wine in single-blind tastings—meaning we knew the variety, but not the producer—it is important to look for “varietal character.” With Old World Tempranillo, that means savory notes of leather and dried herbs, tobacco leaf and subtle red fruits. But in Washington, we get much more fruit, and when you add oak-barrel aging to that, the wine may be much different than its Old World counterpart, full of raspberry and plum, herbs and vanilla, with a brighter acidity than in the hottest areas of Spain. No matter, a few quixotic Washington winemakers are happy to chase the elusive Tempranillo, producing intriguing new vintages for the love of this enticing grape.

Top Tempranillos
Patit Creek 2009, Walla Walla, $29
Desert Wind 2009, Wahluke Slope, Desert Wind Vineyard, $20
Stottle Winery 2008, Horse Heaven Hills, Elerding Vineyard, $26
Milbrandt Vineyards 2009, The Estates Wahluke Slope, $28
Fall Line Winery, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard, $25
Harbinger 2009, Bolero Rattlesnake Hills, $27
Mayfly 2009, Washington State, $25
Idilico 2009, Columbia Valley, $20
Castillo de Feliciana 2009, Columbia Valley, $28
Camaraderie Cellars 2009, Yakima Valley, $27.50

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