by david kirkpatrick
Most of the world's red wine grapes are well represented in the States. Countless acres are planted in Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Syrah throughout the wine country. But you won't find many vineyards devoted to one of Spain's top varieties-Tempranillo. It's the star of that country's most famous region-Rioja, adding structure to blends that often include Garnache. In our most recent tasting, three very different wines topped the list and surprisingly, the more expensive bottles didn't make the cut. Here are the panel's three favorites:
2001 Cosme Palacio y Hermanos, $11.99
Opens with ripe berry and plum aromas with touches of earth, violets, cinnamon and cola. Lightly tart cherry and soft berry fruit flavors with a nicely integrated tannic backbone adding structure. Offers a solid finish that reveals hints of spice, caramel and anise. Scored a well-deserved 90 points and a Top 100 of the Year spot in the Wine Spectator.
1998 Montecillo Riserva, $17.99
Riservas spend more time in oak, in this case 18 months, but where most of Rioja uses American barrels, Montecillo employs nothing but French. And while many vintners add Garnache to provide a little more body, this wine is all Tempranillo. There's a nice hit of oaky vanilla up front along with blackberry fruit, rose hips and chamomile. The flavors are round and velvety with a well-defined oak profile, ripe blackberry fruit and a hint of anise on the elegant finish. An impressive wine that's even better when paired with food.
2001 Iranzo Vertus, $9.99
The ringer in the group, a 100 percent Tempranillo made with organic grapes in Utiel-Requena, a region to the east and south of Rioja. The grape seems to thrive in the warmer climate, showing a nice spice and mint component on the nose with lovely strawberry and blueberry fruit aromas backed by sassafras, jasmine, leather and sugared coconut. The spiciness carries through in the mouth, complementing the soft cherry and blueberry flavors. Nice long finish with a hint of coffee at the end. Outstanding value.
This Week's Panel: Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Kyle Marker, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant; Kathleen Neville, The Milkyway; Kevin Settles, Bardenay.