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TAPAS Tempranillo Tasting: June 14, San Francisco

Sometimes I feel like California vintners don't experiment enough. While they may be trying a wide range of rootstocks, clonal material, yeast strains, trellising methods, barrel regimes, and the various other minor, yet important variables that can make for higher quality wine, far too few wineries are trying to grow different grape varieties from around the world.

That's a generalization, of course, and there are plenty of exceptions, but by and large most California winemakers stick to the tried and true: white and red Bordeaux varieties, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, with occasional branching out into tapas_logo.jpgGrenache, Viognier, or Petit Sirah. With the exception of Zinfandel, most of these grapes are traditional French varieties.

What about the rest of the world? If you ask me, there's far too little Barbera, Nebbiolo, Malvasia, Ribolla, Montepulciano, Albariño, Touriga Nacional, or any of the dozens of other major grape varieties of the world being planted in California.

Which is why I'm a big fan of the Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society. These pioneering vintners have been growing Tempranillo and other Iberian grape varieties for varying amounts of time, but all with the goal of making interesting and compelling wines from grapes that are off the beaten path.

This is the second annual tasting that this group will hold, and unfortunately the second time that I will be unable to attend. But if I were in town, you can bet I'd be there to see what's being done with these uncommon grapes in California.

The main event is a walk-around tasting where wineries from Arizona, California, Oregon, Texas, and Washington will be pouring wines made from grapes such as Tempranillo, Albariño, Grenache, Graciano, Mourvedre, Touriga, Verdejo, Bastardo and more

TAPAS Tempranillo Tasting 2009
Sunday June 14th
2:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Fort Mason Conference Center
San Francisco, CA94123

Tickets are $35 and can be purchased online in advance. Any remaining tickets will be available at the door for $45.

My usual tips for public tastings apply: get a good night's sleep; come with food in your stomach; drink lots of water; wear dark clothing; and if you want to learn anything, SPIT!

Comments (7)

05.25.09 at 1:28 AM

Hello Alder,

Interesting post. As you know, I grew up in California. However, when I lived there I focused on Old World wine and still do. I find it interesting that California has the ability to grow so many different grape varietals due to the various AVA's micro climates.
I would especially love the opportunity to taste a California Nebbiolo. My only experience with Nebbiolo has been examples from Northern Italy and have read that few other places in the world can grow this fussy grapes successfully. Can you recommend a couple of good examples from sunny California?

-Thanks Alder!

Liz Caskey wrote:
05.25.09 at 7:46 AM

Hola Adler,

I totally agree that so many New World countries don't expand beyond the classic grapes. Thankfully, here in South America (I a food/wine writer and expat in Chile), they are starting to experiment more with lesser known varietals Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Nebbiolo, Albario, and Tempranillo. On my last trip to Mendoza in April, I was really blown away by how many new wineries were planting tempranillo, although that was technically pioneered by O. Fournier. It seems to be ideal terroir. Any good Californian tempranillo examples to look out for on my next US trip?
Thanks for the note.

Tchau, Liz

John Kelly wrote:
05.25.09 at 9:53 AM

I won't disagree with you that California could support a greater diversity of grape varieties. The argument could be made that it already does, more than anywhere else in the world. But growers and winemakers tend to stick with the tired-and-true for the same reason Hollywood keeps making the same movies over and over: it sells, and there is real money involved. California Lagrein? Low-budget indie production, plays well on the festival circuit but can't get a distribution deal. I won't exhaust the metaphor, but it could apply to all the interesting varieties you mention.

A major limitation to diversification is clonal availability. For example, there is actually more Barbera planted in California than Petite Sirah, Ruby Cabernet or Carignane but it is almost all high-production selections in the Central Valley. There are small-berry, low vigor clones from the Piedmont, and NovaVine has just recently made a couple of them (from Calosso) available here. Another example is Albarino; very little is planted in California because there are NO registered clones available from FPMS.

Personally I'm excited that some folks are experimenting with Tempranillo here. I believe it has real potential in the warmer, drier coastal valleys. If/when I divest from my current project, I may pursue making a Rioja style wine myself. There are several selections of Tempranillo curently available; same with Grenache (Garnacha). There is even one selection of Graciano. I just need to find some Mazuelo to plant.

jeremy wrote:
05.26.09 at 12:58 AM


Palmina made by Steve Clifton from Santa Barbera makes only Italian varietal wines, including a Nebbiolo. The Zinfandel producer Seghesio also makes a number of Italian varietal wines, although I do not recall if they have a Nebbiolo. There are a few others but their names escape me at the moment.
California Spanish varietals though, with the exception of Garnacha, I have not come across often. It would be interesting and fun to attend this tasting.

05.26.09 at 12:12 PM

John K. there is Mazuelo to be had. It has a different name, here, but it's around. Carignan. (According to Jancis)

Hank wrote:
05.28.09 at 3:40 PM

I will be there. I want to see who's doing what, especially as I am growing Graciano in my yard, along with Zin and Aglianico. Hope to see you there, Alder!

Carrie wrote:
05.31.09 at 2:59 PM

Clay Mauritson has made a 2006 vintage style port called, Independence, using Tinta Co, Touriga Nacional, Souso, Tinta Madeira and Tannat from his Rockpile vineyards. It's not a huge production but it's definately a start to more diverse varietal experimentation.

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