The budding romance with the Spanish grape tempranillo among the U.S. wine producers was on display at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition as the largest judging of American wine included 83 entries of tempranillo at a price point of $25 and greater. Eighteen of those came from the Pacific Northwest.
Worldwide interest in the grape has been growing at a remarkable rate. Plantings of the red variety native to the Iberian Peninsula climbed from 1990 to 2010, and tempranillo now ranks No. 4 in acreage across the globe.
The Northwest’s first tempranillo was planted in 1993 at Red Willow Vineyard in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Earl Jones of Abacela in Roseburg, Ore., focused his now-famous Fault Line Vineyards on tempranillo in 1995, and his success with the early-ripening grape came almost immediately. That has inspired other success stories in Southern Oregon, Washington’s Columbia Valley, the Walla Walla Valley and Idaho’s Snake River Valley.
This month at the Sonoma County judging, Southern Oregon continued to shine as six producers earned gold medals. And tempranillo growers and winemakers throughout Oregon will stage their second annual Oregon Tempranillo Celebration on Friday through Sunday, Jan. 20-22, in Ashland, a weekend capped by a three-hour public tasting. Indeed, there’s no better time to enjoy home-grown tempranillo.
Abacela 2014 Fiesta Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, $23: Oregon’s largest production of tempranillo comes at an approachable price and serves as a delicious ambassador for the bold and spicy variety. Year after year, consumers can rely on this to bring cherries and marionberries with minerality and grippy tannins. Think of a rare ribeye dusted with cracked black pepper.
Cinder Wines 2014 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley, $29: Melanie Krause honed her craft at Chateau Ste. Michelle before moving back home to Boise. Tempranillo is ideal wine for the region’s Basque community, and this features bright red fruit with a hint of dusty earthiness. Smooth tannins and juicy acidity suit it nicely to roasted lamb, chorizo or wild mushroom risotto.
Gordon Estate 2013 Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $35: One of Washington state’s oldest farming families began growing tempranillo in 2005. Their latest offering is full of dark, spicy and toasty tones of blackberry, black cherry and roasted coffee with bittersweet chocolate and vanilla bean.
JAXON Vineyards 2013 Estate Tempranillo, Rogue Valley $30: Jamie and Katherine McCleary began planting their vineyard in 2009, and their Medford, Ore., winery earned a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle with this mature tempranillo that will appeal to cabernet lovers with its theme of Chukar Cherries cherries and toast with rounded tannins and juicy acidity.
Martin-Scott Winery 2013 Needlerock Vineyard Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $24: This East Wenatchee winery grows tempranillo next to the Italian grape Montepulciano. Their latest vintage is dense with cherry, vanilla and cocoa notes, backed by black currant skins. The Scotts enjoy it with chicken, lamb, pork and slices of Manchego cheese.
Pebblestone Cellars 2012 Ellis Vineyards Tempranillo, Rogue Valley $30: The Ellis family began planting Tempranillo in 2003, and these vines are hitting their stride. The tone of this bottling is redolent of elderberry jam and marionberry with delicious pomegranate acidity. The double gold medal this wine earned at the San Francisco Chronicle judging will be a nice accent to their new tasting room in Medford.
Redgate Vineyard 2015 Tempranillo, Eola-Amity Hills, $25: The vast majority of plantings in the Willamette Valley are dedicated to expensive pinot noir, but tempranillo and its ability to ripen early have turned Steve and Charlene Dunn into disciples. Their small vineyard-winery near Salem, Ore., earned a double gold at the Chronicle for its aromas and flavors of cherries and chocolate, backed by hints of graphite powder and boysenberry acidity.
Saviah Cellars 2013 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $38: This acclaimed Walla Walla Valley producers swirls in syrah and grenache to create an explosion of blackberry jam, Rainier cherry and mocha flavors, backed by pomegranate.
Serra Vineyards 2014 Tempranillo, Applegate Valley, $40: Scott Fernandes and Liz Wan excel with pinot noir at this Southern Oregon showpiece, but their ability to produce bold reds shows in this youthful tempranillo that carries a theme of black currant, marionberry and plum. Its sinewy structure and delicious purple tones will appeal to those with a penchant for drinking petite sirah.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.