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The TAPAS 2008 Wine Tasting Event
Wine, like pretty much every other consumer product, experiences trends of interest in the marketplace. In the '90s, Merlot was the hot wine in the U.S., followed by a surge in Syrah, with the most recent varietal enjoying interest these days — perhaps due to a certain 2004 movie to which everyone under the sun attributes this trend — being Pinot Noir. But a lot of wine consumers tend to get bored very easily. They ultimately tire of buying the same varietal wines, and jump at the opportunity to try something new. Could Spanish and Portuguese varietals be the next wave in the ocean of wine in which consumers often find themselves aimlessly paddling? I attended the 2008 Tasting Event of the Tempranillo Advocates Producers & Amigos Society (TAPAS) to get a better idea.
TAPAS describes itself as an organization dedicated to "promote Tempranillo and other varietal wine grapes native to the Iberian Peninsula and wines produced from them in North America." Having taken place at Copia, The American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts, this past week's tasting event was touted as "the most extensive tasting of domestically produced Iberian varietal wines ever offered in America." And I have to say, from my own experience, it most certainly was.
As I typically do at tasting events, before tackling the reds, I honed in first on the white wines. Among those represented, of which there were relatively few, I was disappointed to find that a number lacked the expression of fruit I would expect from the areas and climate in which their grapes are grown. Nevertheless, there was a handful of white wines that showed a beautiful balance of acidity and fruit, and which demonstrated varietal typicity while still conveying a singularity reflective of their respective vineyard sites. The best examples, I felt, were made from Verdelho, a Portuguese grape known more for its role in what is perhaps my favorite of all fortified wines: Madeira. But the similarity ends there, since these wines were made in an aromatic and lighter style, which I'm guessing was inspired from the Verdelho of Australia, where the grape was first widely produced as a white table wine. A couple of other notable whites at the tasting were made from Albariño and Torrentés, both varietals from the cooler northwestern region of Spain (Galicia).
The standouts among the white wines poured at the event were:
Far more heavily represented at the TAPAS tasting event were the red Iberian varietals — notably and predictably, Tempranillo. Often called Spain's answer to Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo is a thick-skinned and deeply colored grape that lends itself to the production of wines with structure and depth of fruit. Like Cabernet, it has somewhat of a broad range of flavor that manifests according to where it's planted. On the Iberian peninsula, it takes many forms — from the regality of Rioja, to the toughness of Toro, to the rusticity of Ribera del Duero — each with clear identity reflective of both site and subculture.
I was excited and impressed to see evidence of conscientious, terroir-based thinking among at least a subset of the producers present. In the seminar that preceded the walk-around tasting, one winemaker in particular (Penelope Gadd-Coster of Coral Mustang) presented a side-by-side comparison of her Tempranillo wines from two different sites, making a loose association between hers and the wines of Rioja and of Ribera del Duero. I'm personally convinced that such detailed site analysis — occurring so early in the experimentation with this varietal newcomer — will minimize geographically inappropriate planting, and encourage producers to rapidly maximize Tempranillo's potential on American soil. And that, I believe, ultimately translates into greater chances of success for this varietal in the marketplace. Currently, with so few producers and vintages, it's perhaps too soon to make any generalizations about the future of Tempranillo. I'm heartened, though, with the quality of the red wines I tasted at the TAPAS event.
Among those poured at the event, the exceptional reds were:
- Barreto Cellars: 2005 Tempranillo (Paso Robles) and 2005 Vinho Tinto (California)
- Core: 2005 C3 Crazy Eights; 2005 Elevation Sensation; 2005 Mister Moreved (Santa Maria)
- EdenVale Wines: 2003 Pear House Tempranillo and 2006 Garnacha (Rogue Valley)
- Fenestra Winery: 2006 Tempranillo (Livermore)
- Viña Castellano: 2004 Tempranillo (Sierra Foothills)
- Vina Robles: 2006 RED4 (Paso Robles)