Grapevine: The temptations of Tempranillo
If you were asked to name the most successful red variety introduced to Australia over the past 20 years or so, Tempranillo probably would have started that period pretty low on the list, but it would arguably sit at the top now.
Versatile, disease-resistant and capable of delivering from the humble to the superlative, it certainly has plenty of attributes that should put it at among the most commonly known and consumed wines in Australia.
Last week we covered the home of Tempranillo; Spain and in particular Rioja. Tempranillo is planted throughout Spain though, the one confusing element being that it is often known by a different name in almost all of the Spanish regions, so spotting it on a shelf can take a little bit of research. In Portugal it features heavily too in both table wines and as a component in Port wines. Australia is now proving to be a strong contender in the new world with plantings spreading across the country, increasing tenfold between 2000 and 2010.
If Port and Rioja are your only previous reference points for the variety, then you may not have a clear, or at least, complete picture of what it can offer. Port is obviously a fortified wine as well as being a blend across varieties and often vintages so picking out a single variety’s character is tough. Rioja wines, certainly from the Reserva level and at times the Crianza level have often seen lavish amounts of new American oak in the past, a kind of oak that makes its presence strongly felt in a wine – vanilla, coconut, dill and a level of sweetness that all crop up in descriptors of Tempranillo wines, but they are evidence of the ageing vessel more than the variety itself.
To get a different vantage point of what Tempranillo offers, it’s worth starting at the more modest end of the spectrum; wines that don’t see too much if any oak and minimal ageing. They offer as compelling an alternative to the elusive, yet ever popular “soft, smooth Merlot”. Tempranillo at this level offers a medium-bodied wine, relatively low in acidity and only modest tannin. Brimming with red and black berry fruits that really hit you on the mid-palate, much like Merlot and a touch of spice. It’s as much about what it’s not as anything. It’s not too heavy, nor too light. It’s not too dry or heavy in structure, but not too sweet nor flabby. It delivers on what Merlot so often doesn’t – a medium-bodied wine, with mouth-filling fruit flavours and soft in texture.
La La Land Tempranillo – $17
Despite being Murray Darling fruit, you shouldn’t write it off straight away. Many “emerging” or “alternative” varieties are thriving in the region because they actually suit the climate more than others have in the past. It’s certainly juicy and fruit-forward in nature, there is some well-judged tannins just to keep it together and a hint of spice coming through, driven by red and black cherry, some plum, liquorice and chocolate. The flavours are generous and mouth-filling, the texture soft and easy-going.