Tempranillo, Spain's answer to cabernet sauvignon, put that country on the world wine map. Producing richly flavored reds with admirable longevity, this early ripening variety is gaining favor in other countries. But despite the strong euro and the weak dollar, the best buys in tempranillo still come from Spain. While the grape is the backbone of that country's most famous wine, Rioja, our lineup included an outstanding example from outside that region. Here are the panel's top picks:
2002 Luis Alegra Crianza, $12.99
This Rioja red adds 5 percent graciano to the blend—it's a low yielding, perfumed grape that adds a nice component to tempranillo. As a crianza, the wine spent 12 months in oak, with another 12 in the bottle before release. The result is a silky red with elegantly complex aromas of berry, rose petal, cedar, earth, vanilla, cola and brick. The flavors are bright and beautiful showing ripe strawberry, tart cherry and dark chocolate all wrapped up in a velvety texture. It's a definite bargain.
2006 Martin Codax Ergo, $13.99
This Galician winery, named for a 13th century minstrel, is best known for their Albarino-based white wines. Sourcing grapes from the Rioja Alta, they've branched out to include a red. Their tempranillo offers lithe and lively aromas of soft oak, vanilla and sweet cherry. The supple cherry carries through on the palate, displaying a lovely creaminess with touches of anise and spice. The finish lingers nicely, offering just the right hit of acidity. Try it with stuffed peppers or a chorizo and potato stew.
2001 Quinta Hinojal Tempranillo, Edicion, $16.99
From Castilla y Leon in the northern part of Spain's central plateau comes this well-aged, classically styled tempranillo. Opulent aromas of raspberry, toast, flinty earth and cedar pour from the glass. The flavors are silky smooth, showing good structure and balance with rich dark cherry and berry fruit backed by well-integrated oak and light, ripe tannins. Subtle licorice, mocha and orange zest mark the finish in this surprisingly youthful wine.
The panel: Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Kevin Settles, Bardenay; Leslie Young, Boise Co-op Wine Shop.