Washington State tempranillo status (2009 update)

Another WAwineman classic, 1st posted on September 7, 2009:

Tempranillo is catching on in Washington State, so here’s the scoop on getting up to speed. This black grape is the foundation of wines from the north-central regions of Spain (Rioja and Ribera del Duero). The preferred climate is at relatively high altitude, cool midday for elegance or high heat for deep color. Brought to California around 1900 as Valdepenas, the vines were misplaced and allowed to proliferate up to 10 tons/acre, and with early ripening, this was an ideal grape to produce jug wines. Abacela Winery’s Earl Jones introduced the grape to Oregon in the 1995. Earl started up a support group, TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society), to promote all Iberian varietals. In Washington, Double River Ranch was the first to plant Tempranillo in 2000 for Seven Hills Winery.

Today, Tempranillo is grown for commercial production in nearly all Washington AVAs. Although the Rioja- and Ribera del Duero-styles are commonly blended with Grenache, Carignan, or Graciano among others, Washington Tempranillo tends to be bottled as pure varietal.

Expect a nose of berry fruit, herb, spice, and leather. Tannins tend to be soft and lush for a medium body. Flavors of: tobacco, nutmeg, vanilla, bright cherry on the midpalate, and a lengthy finish of dark plum and blackberries. “Not varietally correct” descriptors: strawberry pie, huckleberry fudge, white chocolate, & big, chalky tannins. The Washington vines are, at best, under a decade old so estimated cellaring is no more than 7 years.

The highest rated Tempranillo wine is 94 (Wine Advocate) from K Vintners and SYZYGY, both 2005s. Most wineries are in their second vintage of tempranillo. Quite notable is Tempranillo’s absence from the “heavy hitter’s” portfolios—Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Winery, Maryhill, L’Ecole No 41, and Barnard Griffin. Columbia Crest made a 2006 “Reserve” from Wahluke Slope, but I suspect, never made it out of its wine club. Aging tends to be done in neutral oak for 10-17 months. Alcohol content ranges from 13.1 to 14.7%. Most only do a few barrels and sell only in their tasting rooms, so consider yourself lucky if you have the opportunity to buy one.

So far, only 7% of the wineries in Washington have produced a Tempranillo-dominant wine, so there’s plenty of room for more!

Here’s the latest for wineries making Tempranillo:  ($, year) V=vineyard, (AVA)

Airfield Estates ($28, 2007) 90WS. ’08 “Hellcat” has 6% Grenache, 6% Syrah.
Alexandria Nicole ($55, ’06) 72 cases. Destiny Ridge V. (HHH). 100%
Brian Carter Cellars ($35, ’06) 145 cases. Stone Tree V. (CV). 19% Merlot, 10% Cab, 6% grenache.
Camaraderie Cellars ($27.50, ’07) Two Coyote V. (YV)
Cave B ($40, ’07) 117 cases. (CV), Blended with Cab Franc.
Cayuse (-, ’07) “Impulsivo” En Chamberlin V. (WWV)
Columbia Crest (-, ’06) “Reserve”. (WS)
Cougar Creek ($16, ’07)
Coyote Canyon is harvesting ’09 grapes.
Dry Falls Cellars ($20, ’06) 75 cases. Shady Grove V. (HHH)
Gramercy Cellars ($40, ’07) ‘Inigo Montoya’. 330 cases. 15% Grenache, 10% Syrah. ’08 has Mourvedre.
Harbinger ($27, ’07) “El Jefe”. 35% grenache, 30% syrah. Washington State.
Heaven’s Cave Cellars ($39, ’07) (HHH). “Purple Diamonds”.
K Vintners ($60, ’07) “El Jefe” blend. 25% Cab Sau. En Chamberlin V. (WWV)
Kana ($18, ’05) 274 cs. (CV) V: Elephant Mt., Coyote Canyon, Les Vignes de Marcoux.
Kennedy Shah ($20, ’07) 1200 cases. (RH) 100%; ($35, ’05) “Reserve” (RH).
Memaloose (-, ’07) “Rose of Tempranillo”. McCormick Famiy V. (CG)
Merry Cellars ($32, ’07) (CV) 43 cases. V: 58% Echo West, 42% Les Collines. Released 8/20/09.
Michael Florentino Cellars (-, ’05) (CV)
Mount Baker Vineyards ($15, ’05) 180 cases. An ’06 exists.
North Shore Wine Cellars (-, ’05) Coyote Canyon V. (HHH)
Northwest Totem Cellars ($30, ’06) 52% syrah, 1% petit verdot. Elerding V. 15% new French oak.
Pomum Cellars ($23, ’06) 26 cases. “Tinto” blend with 20% Cab Sau. Vineyards: Elerding, Snipes Canyon Ranch and AD Dunn Estate.
Salida (-, ’06) 42 cases. Two Coyote V. (YV). ($35, ’07) and two ’08 blends “Tres Vinos” with Grenache and Monastrell, & “Fuego Sagrado” with Malbec will be released in November. Doug McCrea of McCrea Cellars is the winemaker.
Sawtooth (ID) ($20, ’06) 200 cases.
Seven Hills ($20, ’06) (CV). Mattawa and Walla Walla Valley.
Steppe Cellars (-, ’06) 28 cases. Blended with Grenache. Stone Tree V. (WS)
SYZYGY ($45, ’05) “SAROS 134” 44% Malbec, 12% Cab Sau. (CV). V: Connor Lee, Stone Valley, and Sagemoor.
Swede Hill Cellars ($23, ’07) 82 cases. (CV). 86% Crawford V., 10% Grenache (Spice Cabinet V.), 4% Pinot Noir (Inland Desert V.).
Tagaris ($30, ’07) (WS). New release.
Tertulia Cellars ($35, ’07) 70 cases. Les Collines V. (WWV)
Three Rivers ($29, ’07) (CV) 4% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot.
Thurston Wolfe ($27.50, ’07) 100 cases. 86% Destiny Ridge V., 14% estate Syrah.
Tildio ($25, ’06) Lake Chelan AVA estate fruit.
Trio Vintners ($28, ’07) (WWV) Les Collines V. 70 cases. Released 11/1/09.
Vine Heart ($15, -) (YV). Aged in FlexTanks (no oak). Estate bottled.
Waterbrook (-, ’07) (CV) Canyon Ranch V. 240 cases. Bottled 7/30/08. 100% malolactic.
Willis Hall ($32, ’05) 2 barrels. Destiny Ridge V. (HHH)
Wind River ($28, ’06) Ziegler V. (CG)
Zefina (-, ’05) (HHH) Alder Ridge V. 80 cases. 30% new French, 70% neutral US oak.
–updated as of Dec. 23, 2009. (final update for 2009)

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2 Responses to Washington State tempranillo status (2009 update)

  1. Howdy Wawineman,

    Too bad you didn’t get a chance to try mine before it sold out… Stone Tree and Boushey. Very nice.
    Just bottled my Ribera del Duero-style Tempranillo blend last Tuesday. I’m very excited about it!
    Looking forward to my Jumilla-style Monastrell/Cab as well.
    Be well.


  2. wawineman says:

    Mr. Radford of Flying Dreams Winery in Woodinville!

    I have twice visited your tasting room this year and so far your most memorable wine is the Coquette (sauvignon blanc). I have not tried the tempranillo…yet, but will be back in autumn.

    Personally, I am really thankful you have brought a strong Espana presence to the warehouse district. Some days, I just get bored with all the Faux-deauxs flooding the area.


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