Tempranillo The Terrific
Google Images is awesome except when it isn’t. I’ll explain.
A few years ago we were pouring some great Spanish wines at our tasting bar, and my colleague who was running the tasting was about to print a sign for it when she hit a creative wall. She came to see me in the Vintage Room for advice.
“What picture should I use for the Spanish tasting?” she asked.
I was busy. “Um, Spanish people drinking wine”, I said. Boom. I spent the least amount of syllables and calories possible on that answer. Nailed it.
“How many Spanish people?” she replied.
I sunk, slightly. I don’t really care about pictures or signs (my house has pictures in it only because I am married). I care even less about how many imaginary Spaniards are drinking wine without me in a picture on a sign, but now here I am thinking about all of that. Sigh.
“Seven?” I offered out of thin air.
“Why seven?” she replied.
This strategy was clearly not a win for me. “Why don’t you just use a Spanish flag?” I said, closing the lid. My colleague begrudgingly accepted this lame new suggestion, and left to go and look for a Spanish flag on Google Images. I finished my re-stocking, put together some orders, and had started to answer my emails when she came back looking really upset. “That was a horrible idea”, she said.
She told me how an elderly gentleman reacted to her sign, saying that it brought back painful memories, and that the flag was offensive and should be removed.
“Well maybe that guy doesn’t like Spain” I said, because I’m not really that quick.
“No, he WAS Spanish”, she replied. I went and grabbed the sign that she made and looked at the flag. It had the familiar horizontal bands of red, yellow and red, but in place of the royal seal was a freaking gigantic scary black eagle. This was the flag of fascist Spain. This was the flag of Franco. Without speaking, we quickly found a picture of seven Spanish people drinking wine.
General Francisco Franco famously won the Spanish Civil War, the precursor to WWII, but the Spanish remember the next 40 years, when Franco ruled a despotic, isolated, impoverished Spain that became lost in time. Western Europe formed an economic union but Spain didn’t. France, Italy and Germany exported their wine-grape varieties to the burgeoning New World regions but Spain didn’t. It wasn’t until after Franco’s death in 1975 – well after Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir had conquered the globe – that the outside world got a peek at Spain’s glorious, legendary variety: Tempranillo.
What would the modern wine world look like had Franco lost the war? Tough to say: Tempranillo has, in the last couple of decades, proven kind of finicky when planted in expatriated settings – the most prominent attempts in California produced flaccid juice bombs and jug wines. In native Spain, though, the grape sings arias. Thin-skinned and hyper-sensitive to altitude, Tempranillo can play both the masculine and feminine roles: in Rioja Alta (the more traditional region) it can age like Burgundy or Brunello; in the warmer, lower regions like Toro and Ribera del Duero it can achieve the RPMs of the most intense Right Bank Bordeaux.
Here are some outstanding Tempranillo (with one tiny cheat):
La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva “904” 2007, Rioja
A glorious returning champion, being as the 2005 vintage was last year’s #1 on Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 (we didn’t skip over a year – they didn’t make a 2006). I have taken to calling this wine the Brunello of Spain; it drinks, finishes and cellars accordingly. Cherries, orange peel, vanilla and tobacco precede an intense, bright mouth-feel with a floral lift at the end (perhaps courtesy of the 10% Carignan). Massively gulpable now, but will thrive well into the next decade. One of my very favourite Spanish wines. Come try it to see, we’ll be pouring it this Saturday afternoon in the River District Vintage Room. 97 points James Suckling, 95 points Robert Parker, 4 cases available, $91.99 +tax
Bodegas J A Calvo Casajus “Nik” 2009, Ribera del Duero
Sorry in advance because I won’t have enough - I have the only bottles left in B.C., I’m told. I tried this at Wine Fest and can still taste it – cassis, mineral, spice and searchlight-bright red fruits around the kind of intense, hyper-charged body that 18 moths in new French oak can produce. Yowsers. Famous in Spain, these guys are new on the scene here. I hope they come back soon, with way more wine next time. 97 points Robert Parker, 2 4-packs available (yep they come in 4s), $124.49 +tax
Taylor Fladgate Very Old Single Harvest Port 1967, Douro Valley
Ok, this is the cheat because the blend in this Port is only partially Tempranillo (known locally as Tinto Roriz), but if you drink this you’ll surely forgive me. Grown in the year of Sgt. Pepper, this is nutty, herbaceous glory, braced by toast, licorice and caramel and finishing in a long graceful diminuendo. When we held our Taylor Fladgate Collectors Tasting last November, this 1967 was the clear crowd favourite by a mile. Classified as a Colheita (tawny Port from a single year) rather than a Vintage Port, this is exactly what looking at beautiful things tastes like. 98 points Wine Spectator, 12 bottles (in wooden boxes) available, $259.99 +tax
I hope your summer is going super! Until next time,