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A Quick Peek at Tempranillo

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Oct 20, 2005 7:00PM


During a field trip by the Chicagoist staff a few weeks back to Pilsen's Picante Grill your humble Bridgeport corespondent paired his pato almendrada entree with a $3.50 glass of tempranillo. It turned out to be an inspired pairing; the lighter almond molé sauce complemented the tobacco and vanilla notes found in the wine. Chicagoist loved it so much that we just had to share that love with you.

Tempranillo is the primary red wne grape of Spain. Widely grown in the cooler climates of the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions of Spain, tempranillo also plays a small role in Portugese port wine production, where the grape is known as "Tinta Roriz." Tempranillo is also a common presence in Argentinian and American vineyards and recently has been popping up in Australia's McLaren Valley and Adelaide Hills wine regions.

The tempranillo grape has more acidity than tannins (the bitter chemicals found in grape skins, pips, and stems that often make your mouth feel as if it's been covered by a rug when drinking wine), resulting in medium-bodied wines with hints of tobacco, leather, spice, and light fruit notes- think strawberries or currant. Otherwise the grape lacks any singular characteristic that puts it in a league with cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, or pinot noir. However tempranillo blends well with other varietals and is frequently aged in oak, which contributes as much to a wine's flavor and texture as the grapes. These wines are great for consumption in any season and pair well with everything from grilled red meats to broiled salmon.

Following the jump are some recommended tempranillos for any budget.

Antano Tempranillo 2003 ($5): 85% tempranillo and 15% cabernet and aged four months in oak this wine maintains the light fruit flavors of its primary grape with just the slightest hints of spice from the oak

Osborne Solaz 2003 ($7): A blend of eighty percent tempranillo to twenty percent cabernet sauvignon. This wine is aged four months in handmade oak barrels made at the vineyard, run through a filtering process, then aged another four months in the bottle. The result is a wine with a deep violet color, hints of raspberry and a prominent oak note with a lingering satin finish.

Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2000 ($15): Blended from ninety percent tempranillo, ten percent graciano and mazuelo, and aged for two years in Ameican oak casks, this is a classic rioja with lush plum and cherry notes, hints of sweet spices like cinnamon and a deep plum color. The bottle is wrapped in mesh wire: legend serves that the tradition started as a means of assuring Spanish royalty tha the wine was not laced with poison. These days that wire- and its classic label pictured to the left- help this wine to stand out on retail shelves and bars throughout the city.

Montecillo Gran Reserva 1996 ($20): Made with 100 percent tempranillo and aged for 2-1/2 years in oak, this wine truly takes on the characteristics of its container. Prominent flavors of clove, brown sugar, and pepper are complemented by a deep cherry color and robust finish that clings to the back of your mouth like a good childhood memory.