Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
Tempranillo, the signature red grape of Spain, is also one of those varieties that underscores why people find wine so perplexing at times. It is, of course, Tempranillo; but depending on where you are, the grape is also known as Aragones, Cencibel, Santo Stefano, Tinta de Nava, Tinta del Pais, Tinta Roriz, Ull de Llebre and about 20 other names. It’s a little like being named Bob, but upon being introduced to people saying, “Oh, but in Dallas I’m known as Stan, and in Denver I’m known as Vladimir, and of course in Vancouver I’m known as Enrico the Magnificent.” In other words, confusing.
Thankfully, most of the time Tempranillo is just Tempranillo. It produces brightly fruity, often lightly spicy reds - the most familiar example being the wines of Rioja (where it’s usually blended with smaller amounts of up to three other grapes, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano).
There are more than 500,000 acres of Tempranillo planted around the world, so it’s not exactly elusive; and, in fact, in addition to Spain, there are winemakers making Tempranillo-based wines in a plethora of countries: the US, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, France, Portugal, even Thailand (though no Thai Tempranillo is imported to the US that I’ve ever heard of). It’s terrifically food-friendly in general, and, conveniently, there are also quite a few good Tempranillos out there that won’t set you back more than $15 or so.
Here are a few bargains to look for, plus one of the best versions from California.
2010 Vega Sindoa Tempranillo Navarra ($9)
The Navarra region is less well known than its neighbor to the south, Rioja, but it’s a very good source for Spanish bargains—this juicy red being one of them.
2009 El Coto Rioja Crianza ($12)
A tasty, cherry-accented Rioja that’s 100 percent Tempranillo, it’s aged for 12 months in oak barrels, which is the requirement for Crianza Riojas.
2011 O. Fournier Urban Uco Mendoza Tempranillo ($13)
O. Fournier, which makes wines in Chile, Argentina and Spain, produces this lively, red-fruited bottling from vineyards in Argentina’s Mendoza Region (they also make a Malbec-Tempranillo blend which is also quite good, and sometimes easier to find).
2010 Ramón Bilbao Rioja Crianza ($15)
A little darker and riper than the El Coto above, this also has a touch more new American oak; it would be ideal with herb-roasted leg of lamb.
2009 Truchard Vineyards Tempranillo ($28)
California versions of Tempranillo rarely come in under $25 or so, unfortunately. But for anyone willing to spend a little more, this layered bottling from Napa Valley’s Truchard Vineyards, with its wild berry and spice notes, is well worth the price.
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