Sampling the Sweet Spot for Tempranillo Wines – Rioja

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

In last week’s column our virtual travel transported us to the Ebro River Valley, a hotbed of exciting developments in Spanish wines. Here the Tempranillo grape reigns supreme. This grape is rarely grown outside of Spain and Portugal (I’m starting to see a bit coming out of Argentina, California and even Texas), but within Spain it thrives as the unabashed answer to France’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Different for sure but with favorable components of each of those two illustrious and legendary grapes.

In the Tempranillo grape, the Spaniards have the thick skin, complex characteristics and deep color of the Cabernet Sauvignon with the subtleties and unique fruit and herb aromas of the Pinot Noir. The result is a bold wine redolent with berry aromas, a hint of vanilla and spices and a whiff of leather.

To confuse matters, this grape is known by different names across Spain: Cencibel, Tinto, Tinto de Toro and Tinto Fino, among others. The two most respected locales of this grape are Rioja and Ribera del Duero (we’ll focus on this region in a future column). But don’t be confused; it’s the same grape, just grown in unique locales.
Having just described the unique characteristics of the Tempranillo, be aware that, just as with French winemakers, most Spanish winemakers are not content to allow the grape to rest on its laurels. The French art of blending is pursued vigorously by the Spaniards. Through winemakers’ masterful crafting with other grapes, principally Graciano and Garnacha, a very American-style wine has surfaced: medium bodied, medium alcohol, fruit-forward, mild acidity and very aromatic.

There is a plethora of Tempranillo-based Rioja wines coming into the United States market, in multiple price ranges and different styles. They are excellent accompaniments to most tapas-style foods as well as traditional Mexican dishes. Experiment with Italian tomato-based pastas and meats. And don’t forget grilled meats; the char and smoke of steak or ribs pair well with the rich aromas of an inexpensive Tempranillo.

Here is a sampling of the current releases of the most prevalent offerings and a few to be sought out. The wines are available at many of the wine retailers in The Examiner distribution area. These dedicated proprietors all strive to meet customers’ preferences and requests. Stop in and try one, you may discover your newest favorite wine.

  1. Sierra Cantabria Crianza 2015 ($15): Plum flavors, good ripeness and concentration.
  2. Sierra Cantabria Cosecha ($15): Dark color, black cherries, medium bodied, very rich.
  3. Sierra Cantabria ($12): The third Cantabria offering recommended. Lovely red fruits, perfectly balanced.
  4. Marques de Caceres ($10): Black fruit, discreet touch of oak.
  5. Osoti Crianza ($13): Organically grown, vibrant fruit and oaky notes.
  6. Allende Estate ($39): Layers of fruit, ripe tannin and excellent balance.
  7. Campo Viejo Crianza ($13): Soft and fruit-forward, not oak driven.
  8. Campo Viejo Reserva ($16): Aged for three years, well balanced.
  9. Marques de Vitorio Gran Reserva ($32): Aged five years, huge wine at a great price.
  10. Conde de Jauregui Crianza ($13): Long finish, vanilla notes.
  11. Marques Vitoria Crianza ($11). Compare and contrast to the top bottling above, rich bouquet of berries and spice, creamy oak.
  12. Abel Mendoza Seleccion Personal ($49): Single vineyard, 100 percent Tempranillo, opaque purple, berries galore.
  13. El Coto Crianza ($10: Superb concentration of fruity flavors.
  14. Marques Murrieta Reserva ($20): Plenty of fruit, 25 months in oak, will evolve even more with age.
  15. Bodegas Muga Reserva ($15): Mid-priced offering from this top producer, layers of flavor, lengthy finish.
  16. El Pundito ($55): Notes of dark raspberry and oak, creamy body, great complexity.
  17. Marques de Riscal Reserva ($14): Oaky vanilla and spices, soft tannins.

From the Ebro River region to the Duero River region; our adventures in Spain continue next week.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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