On November 13, wine enthusiasts across the country will celebrate International Tempranillo Day, a red grape widely planted throughout Spain and Portugal. This varietal, characterized by its moderate acidity and aromas of mushroom, blackberries, strawberries, leather, and tobacco, has become one of the most popular in the world, with new plantings in Australia, Washington, California, and Oregon. It’s also become a sort of signature red grape at many Texas wineries.
In anticipation of this week’s celebration, I sat down with a few sommeliers for a blind tasting of more than twenty Texas Tempranillo wines. The overall takeaway was mixed. There were a handful of true standouts in the bunch, but there was a wide disparity in style. We tried some versions that were light, delicate, and fruity wines, and others tasted more robust and tannic, with dark brambly fruit and rustic dusty qualities. The discrepancies aren’t necessarily bad–in fact, in many ways, it wasn’t so different from tasting the wide-ranging flavors found across the Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and La Mancha regions of Spain–but what was clear was that a consistency of quality among the Texas wines is still lacking as a whole.
“It’s encouraging to see the level of quality found in some of the wines,” says Master Sommelier James Tidwell, beverage director for the Four Seasons Resort and Club at Las Colinas. “I’m not sure that we’re at a place where we can really call this the signature grape of Texas, but it’s clear some winemakers have found a way to show wines with a clear typicity.”
The general consensus among the somms I spoke with was that it may take a few years for Texas Tempranillos to hit the mark consistently, but winemakers and grape growers should definitely keep at it. But you don’t have to be a trained wine professional to weigh in with your thoughts on Tempranillo–Texan or otherwise. Join in on a nationwide conversation this Thursday for a special Twitter chat to celebrate International Tempranillo Day from 7 to 8 p.m. CST. All you have to do is pick up one of your favorite Tempranillo wines and offer your comments while following the #txwine Twitter hashtag.
Below are a few of the standouts from our tasting:
Alamosa Wine Cellars El Guapo Tempranillo 2011: $18
One of the first wineries to produce Tempranillo in Texas, El Guapo is a classic style of Tempranillo with notes of menthol, amaro, sou cherry, candied tomato, and vibrant tannin.
Spicewood Vineyards Estate Tempranillo 2012: $45
This wine’s earthy qualities displayed notes of leather, tart cherries, and tobacco, making it a crowd favorite with bright acidity, firm tannins, and a long finish.
Ground Up Tempranillo 2012: $45 (limited restaurant availability)
This specialty wine made by Austin-based sommelier Brian Phillips of Eddie V’s offers notes of dried red fruit, vanilla, spice, and mint. It is lighter than most Tempranillo wines and features a delicate palate that gives it a bright, clean finish.
Pedernales Cellars Reserve Tempranillo 2012: $40
This luscious wine has notes of earth, mushroom, cherry, and charred oak with grippy tannins and a round, layered finish.
Pedernales Cellars Texas Tempranillo 2012: $20
With classic hints of sour cherry, leather, and red flowers, this wine is a little dusty on the palate with a lingering finish.