Lake County: Terroir for Tempranillo
You won’t be surprised to learn that Cabernet Sauvignon covers more vineyard acres in the world than any other wine grape, or that Merlot is runner-up to the throne. But you may not have guessed that third place for wine grape acreage goes to Tempranillo.
How can that be, when many Americans have never heard of Tempranillo? The reason is amusing and simple: Most Tempranillo grows in Spain, and the Spaniards drink most of it themselves! Also, you may have had a Tempranillo from Spain that wasn’t marked accordingly; the Europeans still prefer to indicate regions on wine labels, like Rioja or Ribera del Duero, both of which happen to include mostly Tempranillo.
Another reason for Tempranillo’s relative obscurity is the matter of terroir, that lofty French word the wine world uses to describe the soil, climate and other factors that give a wine its sense of place. The terroir in the great Tempranillo regions of Spain includes rocky soils, warm days and remarkably cool nights, a key feature that protects the acidity in great Tempranillo wines at night after the heat of the day ripens the grapes.
It is at this point things begin to sound familiar to those who love Lake County, where warm days and cool nights flow through mountains made of rocky soils. Here a handful of vintners have made their mark with Tempranillo, and the results can be comfortably sampled in the company of great wines from Spain.
The following is not a complete review, but these offer a great start for you to explore Tempranillo’s from California’s Lake County.
2017 Brassfield Estate Tempranillo ($40) – The grapes are sourced from Brassfield’s own vineyard north of Clearlake Oaks, and the result is a medium bodied, elegant take on Tempranillo. Aromas include cigar box and cedar followed by blackberries and cherries on the palate that lead to a spicy, leathery finish.
2015 Shannon Reserve Tempranillo ($38) – The 2015 Tempranillo from Clay Shannon is his last vintage of the varietal, and that’s a shame. The wine leads with a nose of dried herbs and leather followed by cherries and perceptible toasted oak.
2016 Six Sigma Ranch Tempranillo Reserve ($48) – The Reserve is the flagship from Six Sigma’s signature varietal, and this bottling represents the 12th vintage from their mountainous Diamond Mine Vineyard site. The wine is dark, robust and earthy with notes of mocha, blackberries, cherries and a hint of anise.
2015 Steele Winery Tempranillo ($36) – Jed Steele is a veteran of the Lake County wine industry (one of only 4 wineries operating in 1999) and his take on Tempranillo does justice to the reputation. His was the lightest and most approachable of the bunch, almost Pinot Noir-like in body and color with subtle, integrated tannins that follow a nose of raspberries, cherries and a hint of butterscotch.
2015 Phillips Hill Tempranillo ($37) – not pictured – Phillips Hill Winery is not in Lake County, but they sourced grapes for this bottling from Tejada Vineyard in Upper Lake. Their Tempranillo is the most Spanish in style from this group, with dark fruit aromas of plum, cherry and leather and a hint of mocha. Dusty, fine grained tannins complete the Iberian resemblance.