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Tempranillo

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What Cabernet is to California wine, Tempranillo is to Spain. It is Spain's most widely planted grape variety and forms the backbone of wine from its best known region--Rioja. Styles vary from unoaked, fruit-driven charmers, to oak-aged, deep and complex age-worthy wines. Recently, Tempranillo has taken root in other countries, and our tasting proved the grape has a future in the States. Here are the panel's top picks:

2005 Lan Edicion Limitada, $45

The Edicion is one of the top wines from one of Rioja's finest and most modern bodegas. The aromas are amazing, rich and floral with unctuous cherry, anise, light cedar, spice, dark chocolate and plum. Equally amazing and complex in the mouth, with flavors echoing the aromas. Elegantly structured, impeccably balanced and exceptionally persistent, this is a benchmark wine worth the asking price.

2007 Peirano Estate Tempranillo, $11.99

This big, rich red definitely expresses the warm climate terroir of its Lodi, Calif., vineyards. Heady aromas of cherry cola and chocolate pour from the glass. Very ripe berry and creamy cherry dominate in this bold but balanced red. Smooth tannins mark the mocha-laced finish. An exceptional bargain.

2005 Seven Hills Tempranillo, $26.99

This wine's light but lively aromas are marked by soft blueberry, nutmeg and custard. The flavors are crisp and bright centering on a core of tart cherry and sweet oak that's backed by touches of anise and mocha with a food-friendly hit of acidity. Again, this wine is marked by its terroir. The cooler climate of Washington's Columbia Valley results in a leaner, more elegant style.

This week's panel: David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; Kevin Settles, Bardenay.

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