Last fall when Wine Press Northwest staged its 21st Platinum Judging, it became apparent that the Spanish red variety Tempranillo deserved to be the focus of a region-wide tasting.
There were 26 examples of Northwest-grown Tempranillo that earned a gold medal at one of the qualifying wine competitions around the world during the pandemic-plagued 2020. Seven of those went on to merit a Platinum.
So in March, we conducted what is believed to be the largest tasting of Tempranillo produced in Pacific Northwest as winemakers entered 73 bottlings of red table wine. That’s one more than the first peer-judging we staged in 2015. The Oregon Tempranillo Alliance evaluated a record 58 examples for its critical evaluation in 2017.
It ranks as the planet’s third-most popular red variety in terms of acreage, and Tempranillo has been a growing concern in the Pacific Northwest since 1995 when Earl and Hilda Jones of Abacela in Southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley established the first commercial planting.
International acclaim began streaming in for the Jones family’s Fault Line Vineyard Tempranillo almost immediately, and their nicely priced Fiesta remains the Northwest’s flagship example of Tempranillo at nearly 2,000 cases.
Statewide, according to the 2019 Oregon Vineyard and Winery Report, acreage devoted to Tempranillo has slipped from 414 acres in 2015 to 352, falling just behind Cabernet Franc as the state’s sixth-most planted red variety.
However, the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance reports that more than 100 tasting rooms across the state now offer a Tempranillo. It’s finding favor among growers, winemakers and consumers in Washington and Idaho, too.
The results of our latest overview of Tempranillo once again were delicious, promising and fascinating, with eight American Viticultural Areas represented among the top 11 entries. Two of the highest-scoring entries shared a source on Washington’s Wahluke Slope as historic Rosebud Vineyard contributed to the Rio Vista Vines 2018 Tempranillo and the Vine 46 2017 Tempranillo. And five of the leading wines are very much in their adolescence, products of the 2018 vintage.
One of our panelists, Kent FitzGerald, has been interested in Tempranillo throughout his four-decade career as an executive in the wine industry, which included five years as a senior national buyer for Cost Plus World Market and more than twice that with The Henry Wine Group ahead of its acquisition by Winebow. He’s now a consultant living in Walla Walla.
“What struck me about the tasting was how much tannin control most of the wineries exercised without the use of Garnacha, the traditional Spanish blending grape,” he said. “Without the Grenache, the wines lacked the strawberry elements and tended toward black cherry, blue fruits and figs with a little leather/cedar thrown in for good measure. The better ones also seemed to have the balance to mature nicely over the next 10 or so years. A surprise all around.”
However, one of the top wines included another Spanish grape — late-ripening Graciano. The Coyote Canyon Winery 2018 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Tempranillo from the Horse Heaven Hills has Graciano as 5% of its final blend.
“I definitely like what those two grapes do together, and I think there’s a lot of similarity between the Rioja and the Horse Heavens with high-desert plains areas,” said Justin Michaud, who makes the wines for Coyote Canyon owner Mike Andrews. “I put a little bit of Graciano in our Tempranillo every year, and I think it benefits from a hotter site more than Tempranillo.”
As a result, the Andrews family grabs its Graciano in early October, after the Tempranillo comes in. It’s interesting to note that the Tempranillo in 2018 was machine-harvested for the first time.
And while the Horse Heaven Hills are famous for Cabernet Sauvignon, Andrews and his son, Jeff, continue to use Coyote Canyon Vineyard to showcase their AVA’s versatility. In 2017, Mike was named Grower of the Year by the Washington Winegrowers Association.
They planted Tempranillo in 2007, a year after becoming the first in Washington state to plant Albariño — a white grape native to Spain that’s also rising in popularity in the Northwest. Clone 2 has been the star for Coyote Canyon, just as it has been for Abacela’s Fiesta program.
“I was definitely a little pushy with Mike on the Tempranillo,” Michaud said. “It’s a varietal that’s earning more recognition of late, and while not a lot of them are huge SKUs (bottlings), we’re still seeing enough interest in Tempranillo that we can sell it in the $30-$35 price range.”
Michaud prefers to work with 1- and 2-ton ferments, and since the Andrews family sells more than 90% of its 10-acre planting of Tempranillo to Ste. Michelle’s high-tier program, don’t look for Coyote Canyon to grow its Tempranillo program much — despite the critical success.
“When you look at a lot of those Spanish wines, you can buy a nice one for $12,” Mike Andrews said. “We can’t compete with that market.”
For perspective, there were four Old World examples inserted into this blind tasting, which saw the wines tasted by vintage, with the more mature examples evaluated early on. Three of those were Gran Reserva styles from the Rioja and nearly a decade beyond vintage. Two of them finished near the top.
Tempranillo, whether youthful or mature, ranks among the world’s most versatile and food-friendly wines, which helps explain its rising popularity in the New World. It pairs deliciously with cured meats and barbecued fare, tomato-influenced dishes and Latin-inspired tapas, including burritos, nachos and tacos.
Gordy Venneri, co-founder of Walla Walla Vintners, also was among the judges for this tasting. While he never worked with Tempranillo during his ownership of Walla Walla Vintners, he came away impressed with the overall quality of the winemaking behind those he evaluated.
“There were a lot of good silver medals,” Venneri said. “Even though they didn’t make it to gold, they were very solid wines.”
Our judges for this tasting were: Kent FitzGerald, KW FitzGerald Consulting, Walla Walla, Wash.; Richard Larsen, research winemaker/enologist emeritus, Washington State University, Puyallup, Wash.; Philippe Michel, founder, Oak Traditions, associate, Metis Northwest, Walla Walla; Ken Robertson, Wine Press Northwest columnist, Kennewick, Wash.; Gordy Venneri, retired co-founder, Walla Walla Vintners, Walla Walla; and Kaleigh Brook, general manager, Valdemar Estates, Walla Walla.
The socially distanced judging took place in early March at the Kennewick home of Jerry Hug, Publisher of Wine Press Northwest.
Here are the results:
Rio Vista Wines 2018 Tempranillo, Columbia Valley • $36
The history of John Little’s vineyard site along the Columbia River eight miles upstream from the Bybee Bridge near Chelan Falls began as vacation property 25 years ago. In recent years, his winemaking has continued to display the versatility of the region. And some of the vines at Rio Vista, combined with fruit from historic Rosebud Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, produced one of this tasting’s unanimous votes for a gold medal. Its big and complex nose of blackcurrant, raspberry and blueberry includes tobacco leaf and anise. There’s remarkable depth to the structure as bright and juicy black and purple fruit come with silky tannins and a long, mouthwatering finish. One judge described it as “downright delicious.” (175 cases, 13.8% alc.)
Coyote Canyon Winery 2018 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Tempranillo, Horse Heaven Hills • $32
It makes sense that the first commercial vineyard in Washington state to grow and bottle the Spanish white variety Albariño would also achieve success with Tempranillo. And Justin Michaud, who makes the wine for Mike Andrews, earned a Platinum in 2019 from Wine Press Northwest for his 2016 Tempranillo. Michaud takes a traditional angle with this Tempranillo, first planted in 2007, by blending it with Graciano (5%), and aging the wine in a trio of neutral French oak barrels for 20 months. Aromas of boysenberry pie, cassis, chocolate and baking spices lead to a gush of blue and purple fruit, led by plum. Well-integrated tannins and toast from the oak meld nicely with finishing flavors of Marionberry. (72 cases, 14.7% alc.)
King Estate Winery 2017 Sonrisa Vineyard Tempranillo, Columbia Valley • $50
The reigning Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year adds more acclaim to the résumé of winemaker Brent Stone with this remarkable example of Tempranillo from Sonrisa Vineyard — a site devoted to Iberian Peninsula varieties and organically farmed by Washington State University product Nick Loeffler in Washington’s Rattlesnake Hills above the Yakima Valley. The juice spent 27 months in a barrel program of nearly 50% new oak, revealing tones of spiced plum, cherry and red currant. There’s brightness and remarkable balance to the structure, and it shows best at this youthful stage with some decanting and time in the glass. (220 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Adamant Cellars 2018 Philips Vineyard Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley • $40
Devin and Debra Stinger have been pulling their Tempranillo from the same site as their Albariño, and this vintage signaled the 10th anniversary of this planting along Whiteley Road. Fascinating and diverse floral notes of orange peel, purple iris, carnation and clove blend with juicy fruit akin to Rainier cherry, boysenberry and pomegranate. But perhaps the hallmark of this example of Tempranillo is the tannin management that provides a sandy texture, making for a rather enjoyable experience from top to bottom. (140 cases, 14.2% alc.)
Indian Creek Wine Cellars 2018 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley • $27
The late Bill Stowe, founder of Indian Creek and viewed by many as the godfather of the Idaho wine industry, passed away not long after the 2018 harvest was brought in by his winemaking son-in-law Mike McClure. And here’s a fitting tribute with Tempranillo — a fruit-forward, balanced and low-alcohol approach. It broadcasts notes of blueberry juice, blackcurrant, baking spice and fresh dill as those dark purple fruits meld with a background of softly integrated oak and held up with a long finish that’s just as attractive as the price per bottle. There’s consistency with the Stowe family’s program, too. Indian Creek’s 2012 Temp earned an “Outstanding!” rating back in our 2015 tasting. (200 cases, 12.4% alc.)
Raptor Ridge Winery 2016 Folin Vineyard Reserva Tempranillo, Rogue Valley • $35
One of the Willamette Valley’s most versatile winemaking talents, high-tech refugee Scott Shull, worked with Folin family fruit for the sixth time in this bottling. This site below the Table Rocks near Medford is a classic example of Southern Oregon Tempranillo, creating a mood of sweet cherries, strawberries, plum and rose petal. Its soft tannins make for a medium structure and a long, pleasing finish. Shull also earned an “Outstanding!” rating in our 2015 judging with his bottling of Folin from the 2013 vintage. (360 cases, 13.9% alc.)
Valley View Vineyard & Winery 2016 Pure Native Wine Tempranillo, Applegate Valley • $40
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of this Jacksonville, Ore., winery operated by the Wisnovsky family and led by their longtime winemaker John Guerrero. Their Pure Native label pays tribute to 19th century pioneer Peter Britt, viewed as Oregon’s first commercial winemaker, and the blend of Duero and clone 1 fruit spent a year in French oak. That influence shows up with perfumy aromas of cherries and toast with Jolly Rancher grape candy. There’s a wealth of purple fruit on the palate, led by blackcurrant and plum, and the marvelous tannin management makes for an impressively balanced drink. (250 cases, 13.4% alc.)
Belle Fiore Estate Winery 2016 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley • $36
Gallo-trained biochemist Heather Nenow spent just two vintages as Ed Kerwin’s winemaker, and she left a delicious cellar at this 55-acre showpiece in Ashland, Ore. Her work with this Iberian grape fits nicely alongside the Italian varieties that continue to show promise since they were planted by Kerwin in 2007. Aromas of dusty cherry and plum pick up thyme and spice amid the dense structure that includes loganberry, vanilla and age-worthy tannins. (218 cases, 14.1% alc.)
Wilridge Vineyard Winery & Distillery 2018 Conley Vineyard Tempranillo, Columbia Valley • $25
Two years ago, Paul Beveridge won best-of-class at the Washington State Wine Competition with his 2016 Tempranillo from Pat and Polly Conley’s vineyard near the Naches Heights. Beveridge’s viticulturist at Wilridge, Abraham Gonzalez, also works with Conley Vineyard, so connections run deep. Think of cherry, plum and fig with hints of vanilla and leather as integrated tannins and rewarding oak treatment lead out with a slice of blackberry pie. (310 cases, 13.7% alc.)
Rizzo Winery 2013 Echo West Vineyard Tempranillo, Oregon • $36
Patience in the cellar routinely pays off for Tempranillo, and these Eola-Amity Hills producers of estate Pinot Noir work with Echo West Vineyard across the state near Hermiston for heat-loving Tempranillo. After two years in barrel and a handful in bottle, David Rizzo’s example is redolent of blueberry, Bing cherry and toast with secondary notes of mocha, black olive and cigar leaf. There’s an abundance of structure to carry the day, including a long trail of pomegranate. (160 cases, 15.69% alc.)
Vine 46 2017 Tempranillo, Washington • $27
Wine Press Northwest’s 2021 Idaho Winery of the Year uses its remarkable Tempranillo program to get off to a running start. Family ties to historic Rosebud Vineyard on the sun-baked Wahluke Slope deliver two barrels worth of a wine that earned best-of-class honors at the Cascadia and the Great Northwest Invitational on its way to a 2019 Platinum. There’s a sense of charm to this, something not often associated with Tempranillo, as red-toned cherries and dusty berries are joined by dried herbs and vanilla to achieve balance. Food-friendly tannins and a sense of Old World leanness allow it to be enjoyed before and during dinner. And by earning the equivalent of a gold medal in this tasting, Jeff Ebel and Mike Yates have qualified for our year-end “best of the best” judging and a shot for this same Tempranillo to earn a Platinum in consecutive years. (46 cases, 14.8% alc.)
Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2016 Destiny Ridge Vineyards Estate Big Shot Tempranillo, Horse Heaven Hills • $55 (278 cases, 14.2% alc.)
Delfino Winery 2018 Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley • $36 (96 cases, 12.3% alc.)
Abacela Winery 2016 Estate South East Block Reserve Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley • $55 (270 cases, 14.7% alc.)
Brian Carter Cellars 2018 StoneTree Vineyard 1 Tempranillo, Wahluke Slope • $65 (102 cases, 14.7% alc.)
Delfino Winery 2017 Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley • $33 (157 cases, 13.7% alc.)
Roxboro Vineyard 2018 Tempranillo, Columbia Valley • $32 (200 cases, 13.9% alc.)
Seven of Hearts 2018 StoneTree Vineyard Tempranillo, Columbia Valley • $42 (89 cases, 14.8% alc.)
Siren Song Wines 2017 A Night in Madrid Wahluke Slope • $36 (366 cases, 13.7% alc.)
Eleven Winery 2018 Sugarloaf Vineyard Tempranillo, Yakima Valley • $40 (167 cases, 13.9% alc.)
Tagaris Winery NV Spanish Gran Reserva Reserve Red Wine, Columbia Valley • $52 (60 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Valley View Vineyard & Winery 2018 Anna Maria Tempranillo, Applegate Valley • $24 (300 cases, 13.6% alc.)
Abacela Winery 2018 Estate Fiesta Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley • $25 (1,923 cases, 14.2% alc.)
Carlo & Julian 2018 Estate Vineyard Tempranillo, Willamette Valley • $35 (92 cases, 14.5% alc.)
Lake Chelan Winery 2018 Tempranillo, Lake Chelan • $42 (325 cases, 14% alc.)
Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2017 Winemaker’s Reserve Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley • $42 (550 cases, 13.7% alc.)
Vizcaya Winery 2016 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley • $29 (140 cases, 13.8% alc.)
Abacela Winery 2013 Estate Paramour Red Wine, Umpqua Valley • $110 (150 cases, 14.2% alc.)
Carlo & Julian 2019 Tempranillo, Willamette Valley • $35 (69 cases, 13.9% alc.)
Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2018 Tempranillo, Wahluke Slope • $18 (315 cases, 13% alc.)
Raptor Ridge Winery 2015 Reserva Tempranillo, Rogue Valley • $50 (350 cases, 13.9% alc.)
Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2018 Estate Selection Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley • $29 (560 cases, 13.9% alc.)
Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2018 Winemaker’s Reserve Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley • $42 (500 cases, 14.0% alc.)
Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2019 Estate Selection Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley • $29 (470 cases, 13.4% alc.)
Stag Hollow Wines 2016 Tempranillo, Yamhill-Carlton • $30 (116 cases, 14.4% alc.)
Tagaris Winery 2018 Alice Vineyard Ribera del Columbia, Wahluke Slope • $34 (60 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Bitner Vineyards 2013 Erletxe (Air-leh-che) Tempranillo, Snake River Valley • $28 (50 cases, 14% alc.)
Cave B Estate Winery 2018 Tempranillo, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley • $35 (300 cases, 14.5% alc.)
Sol Stone Winery 2018 Tempranillo, Columbia Valley • $34 (120 cases, 14.6% alc.)
Sigillo Cellars 2018 Tempranillo, Wahluke Slope • $38 (195 cases, 14.9% alc.)
Bitner Vineyards 2015 Erletxe (Air-leh-che) Tempranillo, Snake River Valley • $33 (235 cases, 14% alc.)
Hood Crest Winery 2017 Tempranillo, Columbia Valley • $54 (184 cases, 14% alc.)
Lone Point Cellars 2019 Tempranillo , Columbia Valley • $30 (157 cases, 14% alc.)
Stag Hollow Wines 2017 Tempranillo, Yamhill-Carlton • $30 (95 cases, 14.5% alc.)
Valcan Cellars 2017 El Torero Tempranillo, Rogue Valley • $32 (106 cases, 14% alc.)
Weisinger Family Winery 2017 Estate Tempranillo, Rogue Valley • $34 (153 cases, 13.8% alc.)
Zerba Cellars 2018 Cockburn Vineyard Estate Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley • $50 (100 cases, 14.8% alc.)
Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2018 Destiny Ridge Vineyards Estate Big Shot Tempranillo, Horse Heaven Hills • $55 (209 cases, 14.3% alc.)
DAMA Wines 2017 Tempranillo, Horse Heaven Hills • $45 (150 cases, 14.8% alc.)
Zenith Vineyard 2019 Estate Tempranillo, Eola-Amity Hills • $30 (190 cases, 12% alc.)
Bitner Vineyards 2016 Erletxe (Air-leh-che) Tempranillo, Snake River Valley • $29 (276 cases, 14% alc.)
Dusty Cellars Winery 2017 Tempranillo, Rattlesnake Hills • $25 (120 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Dusty Cellars Winery 2019 Tempranillo, Rattlesnake Hills • $25 (145 cases, 14% alc.)
The Bunnell Family Cellar 2017 Wine O’ Clock Tempranillo, Snipes Mountain •$24 (140 cases, 14.2% alc.)
Amelia Wynn Winery 2018 Barrel Select Tempranillo, Yakima Valley • $34 (96 cases, 14.2% alc.)
Ruby Magdalena Vineyards 2014 Estate Tempranillo, Rattlesnake Hills • $34 (148 cases, 13.6% alc.)
VanArnam Vineyards 2018 Reserve Tempranillo, Yakima Valley • $50 (100 cases, 13.9% alc.)
Evoke Winery 2018 Oh! Orgasmic Tempranillo, Columbia Valley • $80 (720 cases, 15.5% alc.)
Melrose Vineyards 2016 Estate Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley • $28 (300 cases, 14% alc.)
D’Anu Wines 2016 Tempranillo, Willamette Valley • $25 (200 cases, 13% alc.)
Fly Rod Cellars 2018 Turck’s Tempranillo, Snipes Mountain • $33 (86 cases, 14.1% alc.)
Foris Vineyards Winery 2017 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley • $20 (267 cases, 14% alc.)
Mt. Hood Winery 2018 Echo West Vineyard Tempranillo, Columbia Valley • $34 (191 cases, 14.3% alc.)
Ryan Rose Wine 2016 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley • $50 (50 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Valley View Vineyard & Winery 2018 Rosado, Applegate Valley • $15 (100 caes, 12.5% alc.)
Abacela Winery 2017 Estate Barrel Select Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley • $38 (591 cases, 14.3% alc.)
Palencia Wine Co. 2017 El Viñador Tempranillo, Wahluke Slope • $32 (380 cases, 14.5% alc.)
Saviah Cellars 2017 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley • $38 (194 cases, 14.5% alc.)
Wilridge Vineyard Winery & Distillery 2016 Conley Vineyard Organic Tempranillo, Columbia Valley • $25 (315 cases, 13.6% alc.)
Cinder Wines 2018 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley • $30 (980 cases, 14.6% alc.)
Fujishin Family Cellars 2018 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley • $26 (368 cases, 14.3% alc.)
Plaisance Ranch 2017 Tempranillo, Applegate Valley • $25 (250 cases, 13.4% alc.)
Schmidt Family Vineyards 2017 Tempranillo Reserve, Applegate Valley • $40 (144 cases, 15% alc.)
Tempranillo by the numbers
Here’s a look at the numbers behind the wines tasted for this article.
Total wines judged: 74
Percentage of “Outstanding” wines: 15
Percentage of “Excellent” wines: 58
Percentage of “Recommended” wines: 26
Average price: $35
Average price of “Outstanding!” wine: $33
Average alcohol: 14%
Total cases represented: 18,491
Median case production: 190
Average case production: 249
American Viticultural Areas represented: 18
Entries by AVA: Columbia Valley (13), Umpqua Valley (10), Rogue Valley (7), Snake River Valley (7), Wahluke Slope (6), Applegate Valley (5), Eola-Amity Hills (4), Horse Heaven Hills (4), Rattlesnake Hills (3), Walla Walla Valley (3), Willamette Valley (3), Yakima Valley (3), Snipes Mountain (2), Yamhill-Carlton (2), Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley (1), Lake Chelan (1), Oregon (1) and Washington (1).
Explore Northwest Tempranillo
The Oregon Tempranillo Celebration was last staged Jan. 18-19, 2020, just two months before the pandemic scrambled public events around the globe. Prior to that, the OTC enjoyed a five-year run as the public tasting portion of the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance, which has gathered in either Ashland or Portland. Proceeds have been presented to Children’s Miracle Network and other Oregon healthcare initiatives supported by the Asante Foundation.
For more information on the grape and to watch for a public announcement regarding the next OTC, go to OregonTempranilloAlliance.com.
In the meantime, plan to toast the grape with the rest of the world during the next International Tempranillo Day, which is Nov. 11, 2021. Each year, ITD is the second Thursday of November.