Washington wines with a Spanish tilt
Wine columnist Paul Gregutt sees a broad swing to Iberian grapes and blends coming to Washington state. Grenache and tempranillo are the leading varieties, and both are being successfully grown the state. Quantities are limited, but winemakers are exploring these wines, with early success.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Abacela 2008 Tempranillo; $20
A PORTION of this is estate-grown, the rest sourced from neighboring southern Oregon vineyards. Harvested at just 24 brix, it's an elegant style, with plenty of tart, wild berry flavors and alcohol under 14 percent. Just a hint of new oak adds a nice toasty note to a black-cherry finish. (Noble distributes)
"WHAT WILL be the next big thing?" is a perennial topic for speculation among grape-growers, winemakers and wine writers. It's fun to peer into the future, to keep on top of emerging trends and to believe — however briefly — that you might have a clue about where consumer tastes and trends are heading.
For the past three or four decades, the next big thing from anywhere has been a varietal wine. Pinot noir from Oregon. Cabernet sauvignon from Napa. Malbec from Argentina. Shiraz from Australia. Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. You get the drift.
Washington vintners have had brief rides on such roller coasters. Syrah, malbec, petit verdot — all have their enthusiasts. But are any of them the next big thing? I don't think so.
My crystal ball shows a different trend emerging, a broad swing to Iberian grapes and blends. Grenache and tempranillo are the leading varieties, and both are being successfully grown here in Washington. Quantities are limited, but both veteran and rookie winemakers are exploring these wines, with early success.
I sat down recently with Doug McCrea, whose McCrea Cellars portfolio has traditionally been built around red and white Rhône varieties and blends. McCrea's new project, however, has a Spanish tilt. The wines, labeled Salida, include tempranillos (so far 2006, 2007 and 2008 have been released) a tempranillo/garnacha/monastrell blend called Tres Viños, and a tempranillo/malbec blend called Fuego Sagrado.
The genesis of the project, McCrea explained, was simply a phone call from a winemaker who had an extra ton and a half of tempranillo for which he was hoping to find a home. "I thought . . . nothing ventured, nothing gained," McCrea recalled. "I figured I could always blend it away; so, a win/win no matter what."
That first wine — just two barrels' worth — was spectacular, sexy, lush, flat out beautiful. It sold out quickly. And just as quickly, a brand was born.
"How do I differentiate it?" McCrea wondered.
The answer was designing a whole different package, using a Bordeaux-shape bottle, and finding the right name. "That took awhile," he admits. "Salida means exit — to leave," McCrea explained. It's their metaphor for the fall harvest, the leaving of summer and welcoming of autumn.
I am most impressed with these wines, and especially with the direction they are leading. Production is quite limited, but doubling with each new vintage. Cordon is distributing and, as of this writing, Tango (in Seattle) is pouring them by the glass. "Frankly, I'm having fun!" McCrea enthused. "It's refreshing to explore new things."
Want to do some exploring yourself? Check out these excellent offerings from around the Pacific Northwest. Note that there are very few acres of tempranillo planted, so case quantities are small. You may want to contact the wineries directly to see when the next vintages will be released and perhaps to get on a mailing list.
Kerloo 2008 Tempranillo; $34
Dark and juicy. Cassis, dark chocolate and coffee showcase a wine with a strong grip, tight and tannic.
Salida 2008 Tempranillo; $24
Fresh strawberry/watermelon scents, pretty, fruity and quickly approachable. A chewy, good quaffer, the kind of wine you want to drink, not analyze.
Viento 2008 Chukar Ridge Vineyard Tempranillo; $24
A bright, tight, spicy thread of clove runs down the center of this wine, which livens up the firm fruit flavors of red berries and cherries.
Airfield Estates 2009 Tempranillo; $20
Pretty raspberry and black cherry fruit, wrapped in rather astringent tannins.
The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries" is now in print. His blog is www.paulgregutt.com.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.