There are a lot of holidays that are centered around wine. The one that we most often celebrate here at Wine Economist world headquarters is Open That Bottle Night — the excuse to open special bottles for no particular reason other than to enjoy them. It comes around every year on the last Saturday in February, although you really don’t need to wait if you don’t want to.
This year we are adding Tempranillo Day to our holiday list. It’s coming right up — Thursday, November 10, 2022 — so get your corkscrews out and ready to go!
Tempranillo World on the Rise
Tempranillo is most closely associate with Spain and its famouos Rioja wines, of course, but it has become a global phenomenon according to the 2022 edition of Which Winegrape Varieties are Grown Where? by Kym Anderson and Signe Nelgen. Tempranillo was the grape variety with largest expanded plantings during the 2000 to 2016 period of their study (see table above taken from the Anderson-Nelgen report).
The new Tempranillo plantings are concentrated in Spain, where it has become even more important than in previous years as winegrowers have upgraded their vineyards, but also Portugal and Argentina. Australia, the United States, Chile, and even France have seen significant new plantings of this popular grape variety.
Tempranillo #1 — ahead of Cabernet, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc in the new-planting league table. Incredible. But maybe it really shouldn’t be a surprise. Tempranillo is a very versatile wine grape that can take on a number of guises depending upon where it is grown and how the wine is made.
New World Tempranillo
Tempranillo has a history in California, according to the standard reference, Wine Grapes. It was planted in the Central Valley alongside (and sometimes inter-mingled with) heat loving Zinfandel. Artesa Winery (owned by Spain’s famous Raventós Codorníu family) has recently planted Tempranillo vines in its higher-elevation estate vineyard. Sue and I are looking forward to tasting this wine when it is released.
Tempranillo gets a lot of attention here in the Pacific Northwest. Walla Walla’s cult winemaker Cayuse Vineyards has made a Tempranillo called Impulsivo since 2002 and it gets consistently rave reviews. Critic Jeb Dunnock says of the 2019 vintage that “You’re not going to find a better Tempranillo in the US, and it will stand toe to toe with the best out there,” by which I think he invites comparison with the best of Spain. That’s quite a challenge.
The Cayuse team also makes a remarkably delicious and well-balanced Tempranillo for their No Girls label, which Sue declared to be even better than the Impulsivo at this stage of development when we tasted them both. The Impulsivo was very good, she said, but the No Girls was great — very memorable.
There are several others you will find in the Walla Walla, many making good use of grapes from The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. One that we found particularly interesting on our last visit was The Walls winery’s Wonderful Nightmare.
Oregon’s Other Signature Grape?
If you are telling the story of premium Tempranillo in America, a good place to start is about 40 years ago when Earl Jones began his quest to make quality Tempranillo on U.S. soil. He considered Washington and Idaho but was discouraged by the (very real) possibility of vine-killing freezing temperatures. Jones’s path ended in an unexpected place: south-west Oregon’s Umpqua Valley and his Abacela Winery.
Abacela’s success with Spanish wine grape varieties clearly demonstrates the folly of the idea that a state or region must be defined by a particular signature grape. Oregon may be Pinot Noir to many wine enthusiasts, but that’s far from the whole story. Taste the Abacela wines and you will know what I mean.
And then there is Idaho Tempranillo. If you visit Boise, Idaho you will probably be directed to the Basque Block, a downtown area that honors the state’s active Basque community (food tip: Bar Gernika for the Solomo sandwich). Maybe that Iberian connection is one reason Tempranillo was planted some years ago in the Skyline vineyard and several wineries make a Tempranillo wine today. Look for award-winning Cinder Tempranillo and for Fujishin Family Cellars Tempranillo, too, both from the Snake River Valley AVA.
The Tempranillo boom extends to Texas, according to Wine Grapes, and also includes regions Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, Turkey, and Malta. Winegrowers and wine-drinkers around the world can’t seem to resist it. Tempranillo is one of global wine’s success stories, so it is worth pulling a cork on Thursday and celebrating Tempranillo Day!
Thanks to the crew at Bionic Wines for samples of the Cayuse and No Girls Tempranillo wines. Special thanks to Jim Thomssen for information about Tempranillo in Idaho.