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From left: Eric Weisinger of Weisinger Family Winery, Les Martin of Red Lily Vineyards, Scott Steingraber of Kriselle Cellars and Earl Jones of Abacela Winery at the 2017 Oregon Tempranillo Celebration. ##Photo by Steven Addington Photography

Tempranillo Celebrado

Spanish-style wine honored at annual Oregon celebration

By Tamara Belgard

If you were to ask which is the most popular wine in Oregon, Tempranillo is probably not the first answer you’d hear. Or second. Or even third. Yet, statistics revealing approximately 1,400 acres planted to Tempranillo in this state — an increase of more than 20 percent since last year alone — point to the Spanish-style wine’s growing demand.

“Oregon has the largest planting of Tempranillo in the entire Pacific Northwest, including Idaho, Washington and even Canada,” explained Earl Jones, owner of Abacela and president of the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance.

When David Furer, notable wine critic and panel member at the 2017 Oregon Tempranillo Celebration, spoke about growing the varietal here, he said, “Part of the novelty is making a Tempranillo in a place where it is unexpected.”

Tempranillo, long a dominant wine in Spain, with roots dating to 800 BC, is gaining a strong foothold in Oregon; currently, more than 60 producers bottle Tempranillo throughout the state.

With warm days and cool nights, many sites in Oregon are perfectly suited for growing this grape. The name derives from the Spanish word “temprano,” which means “early,” likely referencing Tempranillo’s speedy ripening accompanied by a short growing season.

Winegrowers, producers, journalists, trade and consumers gathered in Ashland, Jan. 21–22, for the second annual Oregon Tempranillo Celebration. They discussed and tasted various styles available throughout the region.

The first day consisted of informative seminars primarily focused on education and technique. Topics discussed included the range of choices in vineyard and winemaking practices, and how blending Tempranillo with different varieties of grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah, for instance, affects the finished wine.

Tempranillo was first planted in the insular world of Southern Oregon, which includes the Rogue, Applegate and Umpqua valleys, in the mid-1990s by Abacela’s Jones. In fact, he suspects he now has the largest commercial production in the country, with 6,500 cases per year.

What may surprise you is how Tempranillo is being grown and crafted in the Willamette and Columbia valleys, too. Carlo & Julian Vineyard’s location in Carlton, situated in a warm micro-climate in the Willamette Valley, grows the grape — as well as other warmer climate varietals. Zenith Vineyard, Raptor Ridge, Holloran, David Hill and Arcane Cellars are also other unexpected Willamette Valley producers and/or growers of Tempranillo.

Part of Tempranillo’s allure is how the elegant, well-structured wines are both widely diverse and food-friendly. They’re also typically easy to find and offer complex flavors, especially for the price point — approximately $25 to $30. Though they are predominantly fruit-forward and enjoyable at a young age, when intrinsically balanced with tannins and good acidity, Tempranillo shows great potential for aging. The flavors are generous, without being thick and heavy, and the savory components make them especially delicious with roasted vegetables, cured meats (jamon), tomato-based sauces (pizza) and even tacos.

In Spain, the wines range in appearance from ruddy orange to ruby, but, in Oregon, the thick-skinned blue-black grapes produce wines saturated in color and extract, exhibiting a deeper, darker magenta.

The wines presented at this year’s Tempranillo Celebration shared a common thread running throughout, expressing a variety of nuanced aromas and flavors, including juicy black cherry, blackberry, black plums, subtle rose, cured salty meat, pipe tobacco and worn leather.

In 2005, Abacela produced the first Gran Reserva-style Tempranillo. They now offer three expressions of the grape, their version of a traditionaly Crianza (more entry-level Tempranillo), a Reserva (Reserve) and Gran Reserva (Grand Reserve), respectively.

As Oregon continues defining its unique style of Tempranillo — identifying which clones and techniques work best to take advantage of soil, geography and climate, and knowing how winemakers can capture the essence of the grape while preserving that terroir — we can only expect the already excellent quality to increase.

Deborah Parker Wong, wine journalist and one of the panel members, coined the term “Super Rogues,” referencing the big red wines from the area. Though it doesn’t speak to the fact Tempranillo is being grown throughout the state, the term does hint at how similar wines are creating a memorable style and making a strong, enduring impression.

The 2017 event concluded with the sold-out Grand Tasting, providing 250 people the gift of Oregon Tempranillo. One of the greatest takeaways from the weekend was experiencing the broad range of wines styles resulting from varying clones, regions, soil types and winemaking influence. Favorites recommended for further exploration include: Abacela, Delfino Vineyards, Folin Cellars, Girardet, Jaxon Vineyards, Plaisance Ranch, Red Lily Vineyards and Valley View Winery.

Winemaker Mark Wisnovsky of Valley View describes the style of his 2014 Tempranillo as “not heavily extracted, more fruit-forward, and in a general style we’re moving toward more rapidly.”

Next year, the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance is taking its show on the road to Portland, Jan. 19–21, where the dedicated group will aim to reach a new audience of discerning wine consumers and potential Oregon Tempranillo enthusiasts.

Visit www.oregontempranilloalliance.com for more information.

Tamara Belgard is a freelance writer who explores the Oregon wine scene from her home in S.W. Portland.

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