Tempranillo is the grape most wine-focused Southern Oregonians are excited about. It is well- suited to the short, hot growing season here and no other American wine region has claimed it as their own. Given the interest in this grape, I decided to do a blind tasting comparing three top Tempranillos from Umpqua Valley with the most impressive from the Rogue Valley.
As a comparison of these regions this is obviously a very limited test given the small sample size. The fact that one of the entries is blended with about 20% Cabernet and has an additional year of bottle age means we lack a grapes-to-grapes comparison. But the results are nevertheless interesting. All wines were initially tasted single blind to get initial tasting notes and a provisional ranking. Then each wine was tasted non-blind over several hours to gain greater insight.
The winner? A very close call between the top two.
1. Hillcrest Vineyards Tempranillo “Umpqua Ribera” Umpqua Valley 2012
Winemaker Dyson Demara made this wine to be a “spittin’” image of Ribera Del Duero’s Vega Sicilia Unico. Since Vega Sicilia happens to be one of my favorite wines it’s not surprising that I picked this out in the blind tasting as the standout. Good aromatic intensity but what sets it apart is depth, a wine that promises mystery with its flavor. Aromas of dark fruit, fig and mocha are set against a background of gentle vanilla and mint emerging with aeration, and indefinable complexity that seems to hover just below the threshold of detection. The palate reveals a long, seamless evolution from dusty earth with coriander notes through waves of cola to a broad-shouldered chewy finish with top notes paradoxically suggesting cool, mountain spring water. Serious, stately but with fortitude and intimations of the mystical. Blended with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon 93 pts.
2. Paul O’Brien Tempranillo Cask 11 Umpqua Valley 2014
A very close second, this has bright, fresh cherry aromas, standing out against a duo of leather and damp leaves and developing coffee with aeration. Great clarity and focus. The palate is juicy, broad and lush but gathers intensity at midpalate with a rush of crisp acidity. The tannins unfurl gently persisting as a low level prickle, supporting a long peppery finish with electric minerality closing the proceedings. I love the finish on this wine. It achieves power without relying on excessive tannin. An extrovert but dignified and graceful. This wine was fermented and aged in a large 900L French cask, very old school. 92 pts.
3. Abacela Tempranillo Barrel Select Umpqua Valley 2013
Dark plum on the nose with enticing leather and wisps of smoke. A note hovering between herbal and floral adds complexity but the aromas are more muted than the competitors. This wine has a darker aspect, earthy, and brooding with lots of medium grain tannin, which gives it some rusticity. The finish is juicy but shows too much wood. It needs time to soften. Abacela was the first to plant Tempranillo in this region in 1995. 89pts.
4. Kriselle Tempranillo Rogue Valley 2013
What an odd experience with this wine. In the tasting room it was very impressive showing great intensity and originality. During the blind tasting it leaped from the glass with more aromatic intensity than all the others in the line up. But as I continued to sample the wine I became less enamored and the wine started to cloy. Explosive, new leather, smoked meats and caramel on the nose promise complexity. And in the mouth, the first impression is round and full with refreshing acidity complementing black cherry. But a harsh tobacco flavor pushes to the fore midpalate that throws the wine out of balance, giving way to a finish of fine grained tannins but with some exposed wood and bitter wood tannins that become more prominent with aeration. Bombastic and then turning fierce, with 30 months in French, Hungarian, and American oak, 35% new, it just seems overdone. Points for originality. 88 Pts.
Tempranillo has a lot of potential in Southern Oregon but getting the oak right is a challenge.