File this under "Who knew?" There’s such a thing as a white tempranillo grape, as I discovered this week at two trade tastings spotlighting Spain. As the winemakers tell it, a grower spotted a few white grapes on a red tempranillo vine some 25 to 30 years ago. He did what any curious grape-grower would do and grafted it. Today there are thousands such vines, though it’s still a rare breed.
But word is getting out Stateside. The first one was I tried was at a tasting launching the 2020 edition of Guía Peñín, the preeminent guide to Spain wine. This was a pure tempranillo blanco from Bodegas D. Mateos (f. 1886) southeast of Logroño. Categorized as a DOCa Rioja, it’s quite complex, with stone fruit and white flower aromas and a creamy texture from seven months on the lees in French barrique. There’s a touch of tannin, too. It’s much more than a simple summer quaffer.
My next encounter was the following day at the Rioja Railway Wine Experience, which cleverly spotlighted the wineries surrounding Haro’s train station—a logical position during the 19thcentury, when the first leg of transport was by rail. That line-up included Gómez Cruzado (f. 1886), La Rioja Alta (f. 1890), Viña Pomal (f. 1901), Muga (f. 1932), and Roda (f. 1987), the latter two being wineries that we visit on our RIOJA ROUNDUP tour.
Gómez Cruzado presented a 75/25 viura/white tempranillo blend called Montes Obarenes. There’s an enticing wiff of hazelnut and vanilla from fermentation in new barrique, and a plush, full-bodied texture from aging on the fine lees in concrete tank. It’s luscious and immediately appealing. I could imagine just how well it would go with white asparagus or roasted red peppers—two perennials on the Spanish table.
Other special treats from the week’s Spanish tastings:
The luxury of attending such industry tastings is that you get to encounter wines of a rare breed. Aged albariño falls squarely into that camp. Albariño is a wine from the coastal inlets of Rias Baixas that everyone drinks young and fresh. (One sommelier in attendance noted, “Albariño sells itself on by-the-glass lists. It doesn’t make anybody mad.”) So we were flabbergasted to see a vintage 2010 from Bodegas Fillaboa and a 2012 from Paco & Lola. The first had six years on the lees, the latter five. That adds up to an albariño that’s rich and refreshing at the same time—a very neat trick. The flavors of tart green apple have somewhat subsided, leaving a nice minerality and nutty nose.
In my book, there’s nothing better than garnacha from gnarly old bush-trained vines. Bodegas D. Mateos once again excels with their Garnacha Cepas Viejas, as does the exceptional Garnacha de la Finca La Pederiza from La Rioja Alta, juice that normally goes into their Viña Ardanza Rioja.
To the east of Rioja, garnacha goes gangbusters in the Cariñena appellation. Hacienda Molleda, a medium-sized family winery (65 ha) now in its 5th generation, offers convincing proof. I’d gladly make their young, strawberry-scented garnacha (above left) my house wine this summer. But the grand dame was their upper tier GHM Garnacha, from vines age 75 years and up. It’s a hedonistic cornucopia of berry fruit and spice.
Obviously the appellation of Cariñena is better known for its cariñena varietal wines. I developed an affection—no, a passion—for this grape when travelling in Sardinia, which was once under Aragon rule, hence the import of this Spanish grape. And Hacienda Molleda continued their winning streak with the appellation’s namesake grape as well. Cariñena has more tannic grip than garnacha, but is equally loaded with ripe, succulent fruit, though it skews a bit darker, more towards blackberry and plum. Their stainless steel Cariñena was quite lovely, but the premier line GHM Cariñena was truly worth its salt—and that rack of 90-point scores.