Though relatively little tempranillo is planted in the Pacific Northwest, the red Spanish variety is finding a lot of love with winemakers, grape growers and wine lovers alike.
The first Northwest tempranillo was planted in 1993 in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Two years later, the first serious amount went into the ground at Abacela in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley.
Today, delicious tempranillos are made across the Pacific Northwest — including several delicious examples in Idaho’s Snake River Valley.
Tempranillo is most famous in Spain’s Rioja region, where it is crafted into a sturdy, wild and ubiquitous red wine. The grape has been grown in California for several years with limited success. It would seem that the northern latitudes of Southern Oregon and Washington’s Columbia Valley are excellent New World locations, and the wines we are seeing from the Northwest are gaining fans with every vintage.
Tempranillo can be a big wine, and it pairs well with grilled meats, Cajun dishes, roasted duck and even spicier Mexican dishes.
Here are several delicious examples from Washington and Oregon, all of which earned gold medals at the Cascadia Wine Competition in March. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Saviah Cellars 2013 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $38: This plush wine by Richard Funk takes off with dark cherries and spicy herbs on the nose, then dives down past black cherries into blueberries, black plum and a touch of cracked black pepper before gliding down onto a runway of smooth tannins. It’s a flight of fancy well worth raising your glass to — repeatedly. (14.2% alc.)
Abacela 2013 Fiesta Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, $23: Aromas open with mint, spicy oak and nimble cherries. In the mouth, the cherries are dark, dipping down toward dark Marionberry skin, then unearthing Abacela estate’s minerality and grippy tannins. It’s a huge mouthful that calls out for a rare ribeye dusted with cracked black pepper. (13.9% alc.)
Stina’s Cellars 2013 Tempranillo, Wahluke Slope, $25: Washington’s warm Wahluke Slope nurtured the Tempranillo grapes for Perry Preston in Lakewood. It features aromas of bright cherries and spicy vanilla. In the mouth, those cherries pop with bright red acidity, then slide smoothly into blueberry skin, more spice and carefully managed tannins, a surprising feat for a young Tempranillo. (14% alc.)
Mt. Hood Winery 2013 Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $32: This opens with dark cherries, cola and appealing oak spice, then parades those cherries, blackberries and blueberries across the palate before exiting with ample tannins that echo the opening notes with a nip of Van cherry skin and spice. (14.9% alc.)
Schmidt Family Vineyards 2013 Tempranillo, Applegate Valley, $38: This three-generation winery and vineyard operation in Grants Pass, Oregon, has added Tempranillo to its portfolio with predictably excellent results. Its nose readily shows off cherries, blackberries and warm spices. And a sip reveals dark cherries, blueberries, plum and blueberry skin tannins and a layer of chocolaty tannins. A finishing nip of acidity combines with its grippy tannins for a lingering finish. (13.82% alc.)
Maryhill Winery 2013 Painted Hills Vineyard Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $34: New Zealand-born winemaker Richard Batchelor turned these grapes into another gold medal winner for Maryhill. Deep cherry aromas, a bit of mint and warm spices on the nose usher in dark cherries, blackberries and blueberries on the palate. Grippy tannins and juicy acidity close out its lengthy finish. (14.2% alc.)
Eleganté Cellars 2014 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $35: Doug Simmons, known for crafting high-quality Sangiovese with regularity, used the best-known Spanish red grape to make this stunner. Mint, spice, cherries and a suggestion of raspberry crowd into its aromatics, then the cherries combine with jammy loganberries and black currants on the palate. It finishes, as is the way of young Tempranillo, with grippy tannins. (12.5% alc.)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.