Monday, June 22, 2009

U.S. Albarinos and Tempranillos still fall short

U.S. vintners have figured out how to make many wines as well as in their lands of origin. But for trendy Albarino, there's still a big gap between California and Spain.

I learned this last week at the TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society) tasting in San Francisco.

Albarino isn't an easy grape to grow. It's vigorous and very thick skinned and requires a lot of tending. That's why they're expensive relative to other white wines; most cost more than $20, but a good Rias Baixas wine is well worth it.

I tasted only one American Albarino that could hang with the Spanish, and that was from Oregon: the 2008 Abacela Estate Grown Umpqua Valley Albarino ($18), which delivered characteristic flavors of crisp lime with a little peach and some minerality, and would not have been out of place in a tapas bar in Santiago de Compostela. Winemaker Earl Jones is a Spanish varietal fan who moved from Pensacola, Florida to southern Oregon to grow Tempranillo. I'm glad he decided to plant some Albarino as well.

None of the other American Albarinos I tasted were worth having. I did sample some other good Span-American white varietals, though:

Bokisch Vista Luna Vineyard Lodi Garnacha Blanca 2008, which I have already blogged about.

Bodega Del Sur Alta Mesa (Lodi) Verdelho 2008: Intense wine with plenty of green fruit -- greengage, green plum, lime. Good acidity keeps it balanced. Great effort from a new winery. 90

Fenestra Silvaspoons Vineyard Lodi Verdelho 2008: Crisp, minerally wine with plenty of lemon fruit from one of the oldest wineries in Livermore. 89

Vina Robles Paso Robles Verdelho 2008: Crisp, peppery, tight wine that would come alive with seafood. Tasting room only. 88

Now if you saw the subject line, and it's the Tempranillo Advocates tasting, you're wondering, Where were the good Tempranillos?

So was I. I concentrated on the whites, so I only had time to taste 15 Tempranillos. I liked only one: Curran Santa Ynez Valley Tempranillo 2005, which despite 30 months in oak delivered a light and spicy version of the grape, with good acidity and lingering lip-smacking fruit. (Give it 89)

It's not fair of me to say there aren't any great U.S. Tempranillos after tasting only 15 wines. But I did talk to some sommeliers and wine buyers who concentrated on the Tempranillos and were leaving unimpressed. This is a grape that ought to do well in California -- think how sunny most of Spain is -- and I'm mystified about why it's not.

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