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by Ken Zinns

Ken is a Bay Area architect with a passion for wine. After taking a few wine courses through UC Extension, he started becoming more "serious" about wine in the early '90s. Ken has been taking wine-tasting trips to the Central Coast since early '92, and has come to love the area - not only for the wines, which just get better year by year, but also for the people. Ken's interest in wine is more than passive, and he's been volunteering his help at several urban East Bay wineries since 2001 - and in fact was recently named assistant winemaker for both Eno Wines in Berkeley and Harrington Wine in San Francisco.

TAPAS, 2008 - August 8, 2008


TAPAS – 2008
1st seminar and wine tasting

Report on the 1st seminar and wine tasting presented by TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates, Producers, and Amigos Society), on Friday, August 8th, 2008, at COPIA in Napa, California. The event featured the most extensive tasting of US-produced wines made from Iberian grape varieties ever presented. This was a two-day event – the Friday session was for members of the media and wine trade, while the Saturday one was for the general public. Each afternoon's session included a seminar and tasting. The notes below are from the Friday session.

TAPAS is a non-profit trade association formed in January 2006. The group’s stated mission is “to promote Tempranillo and other varietal wine grapes native to the Iberian Peninsula and wines produced from them in North America.” There are currently over 60 members of the association, including wineries and vineyards located in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas, and Ontario, Canada.

Overall impressions:

As the very first public event presented by TAPAS, this tasting offered an unusual opportunity to sample domestically-produced wines made from Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties in one setting. There are plans for this to become an annual event.

The Friday seminar, with a theme of "Why Iberian? Why Now?" was informative. TAPAS President Earl Jones, of Abecela Vineyards in Oregon, presented a historical background of Spanish and Portuguese wines and explained the reasons why most varieties from the area were slow to make their way to the rest of Europe and to America. After some limited success in the mid-19th to early 20th century, Iberian varieties planted in North America were not highly-regarded. New respect for wines from Spain itself from the 1970s on led to greater interest in planting these grapes here. Still, it was not until 1992 that new plantings of Tempranillo in California were located outside the hot Central Valley. 1995 saw the first Tempranillo in Oregon as well as the first varietally-labeled Tempranillo in the US. By 2000, Tempranillo had been planted in over 15 states, and interest in Iberian varieties has taken off since then.

The TAPAS website lists over 20 winegrape varieties originating in Spain and Portugal that are now grown in North America, including Albariño, Alvarelhão, Cariñena/Mazuelo (Carignane), Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano, Mataro/Monastrell (Mourvèdre), Tempranillo, Touriga, Verdejo, and Verdelho among others. Several of these grapes are usually thought of as Rhône varieties, but it is believed that they actually originated in Spain and were brought to the Rhône later.

The seminar continued with brief talks by Burke Owens of Bonny Doon Vineyard, Penny Gadd-Coster of Coral Mustang Wines, Michael Barreto of Barreto Cellars, Scott Klann of Twisted Oak Winery, and Stuart Spencer of St. Amant Winery.

Some Favorites:

Alta Mesa Cellars 2007 Verdelho
Bokisch 2007 Garnacha
Core 2006 "Elevation Sensation"
Eden Vale 2006 Garnacha
James Judd 2006 Tempranillo
Longoria 2005 Tempranillo
St. Amant NV Tawny Port
Tejada 2005 "Tejada Reserve"

Wineries participating at the tasting – 36 wineries poured there – were from all over California, plus a number from Oregon and one each from Washington and Arizona. The tasting was well-organized and the COPIA space was large enough to handle a good turnout of tasters without becoming overly crowded. My only issue with the tasting was that the two-hour time period was not sufficient to get around to as many wineries as I would have liked (though admittedly I could have spent less time talking with the winemakers there and more time actually tasting!).

There were some very good wines but not a lot of consistency – not really surprising considering that making “serious” Iberian-varietal wines in this country is a relatively new undertaking. I must confess that I'm not as familiar with the Spanish and Portuguese counterparts of these wines as I'd like to be, but judged solely on their own merits, there were a number of very good wines being poured. Many of the producers were small and fairly new, but virtually every wine I tasted was well-made and tasty, with a few that stood out above the rest. Best of all, most of these wines are very affordable and offer a pleasant contrast to more familiar varieties.

Selected Tasting Notes

Alta Mesa Cellars

  • 2007 Verdelho, Lodi. Light color, ripe nectarine / stone fruit aroma, medium-rich mouthfeel, smooth finish. Maybe a bit light in acidity, but a very tasty and pleasant warm-weather quaffer.

    Comments: Not to be confused with Alta Mesa Vineyard in Santa Barbara County, this is the label of Silvaspoons Vineyard's Ron Silva, who probably grows more different Iberian grape varieties than anyone in the US. The vineyard is located in the Lodi's Alta Mesa sub-appellation.

Bokisch Vineyards

  • Markus Bokisch, Bokisch Vnyd
    2007 Albariño, Mokelumne River – Lodi. Light yellow color, bright grapefruit aroma with mild mineral/stone character, smooth mouthfeel.
  • 2007 Albariño, Clements Hills – Lodi. Light straw color, stone fruit and citrus on the nose, more mineral notes, a bit bigger and richer on the palate than the Mokelumne River bottling.
  • 2007 Rosado, Clements Hills – Lodi. 93% Garnacha, with 7% Graciano on skins to increase the color. Light red color, strawberry aromas with some earth and spice notes. Totally dry, very clean and crisp finish.
  • 2007 Garnacha, Clements Hills – Lodi. Light purple color, very intense fresh strawberry fruit, just a hint of vanilla/oak and spice, medium-bodied with smooth mouthfeel, mild tannins, and a long tasty finish.
  • 2006 Graciano, Mokelumne River – Lodi. Medium color, earthy blueberry and darker fruit aromas with smoky overtones, rich on the palate but fairly mild tannins.
  • 2006 Tempranillo, Jahant – Lodi. Medium red-purple, earthy, leathery raspberry and plum in the nose, some spice and oak notes, this displayed good structure with medium-big tannins.

    Comments: Bokisch has been one the California's leading producers of Spanish-style wines in recent years. I'd tasted the two '07 Albariños a few months earlier, and they'd changed noticeably in that short time. I'd favored the Mokelumne River bottling before, but this time I preferred the Clements Hills.

Bonny Doon Vineyard

  • 2007 Albariño, Ca' del Solo Estate Vineyard, Monterey County. Light straw color, citrus and mildly floral aromas, good acidity. A pleasant wine in a more restrained style than most of the Albariños we tasted.

    Comments: Bonny Doon's Iberian grape varieties are sourced from their own biodynamically-farmed vineyard near Soledad.

Coral Mustang Wines

  • 2004 Tempranillo, Vista Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles. Medium color, smoke, black cherry and darker fruits with hints of dried herbs in the nose, moderately rich on the palate with a fairly tannic finish. A tasty wine that could use some additional time in the cellar.

    Comments: I also liked Coral Mustang's '05 Tempranillo and '06 Tempranillo Rosé, which I tasted a few weeks after the TAPAS event. Very nice wines, and this could be a label to watch.

Core Wine Company

  • 2006 Core White, Santa Barbara County. 75% Grenache Blanc, 17% Roussanne, 8% Marsanne. Apple and pear aromas with some leesy notes, and mild hints of stone fruits and minerals, fairly rich mouthfeel and smooth finish.
  • 2006 C³ Tempranillo, Santa Barbara County. Medium color, smoky plum, earth, and dried herbs in the nose, medium-bodied on the palate, the flavors echo the aromas, along with some underlying vanilla/oak and spice notes, and a moderately tannic finish. Very young but should develop nicely in the bottle.
  • 2006 C³ “Crazy Eights,” Santa Barbara County. 85% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Medium color, darker fruit character than the Tempranillo, with blackberry, smoke and spice, and noticeably more bite on the finish – this one will take a few years to soften up.
  • 2006 “Elevation Sensation,” Alta Mesa Vineyard, Santa Barbara County. 60% Mourvèdre, 40% Grenache. Raspberry and cassis, mildly herbal, with some spice and earth notes, smooth mouthfeel and not too tannic, probably the first vintage of this wine that's as beautifully drinkable as this right out of the gate.
  • 2005 “Ground Around,” Santa Barbara County. 40% Grenache, 30% Tempranillo, 30% Syrah. Strawberry and raspberry aromas, brighter fruit character than the other Core wines with a livelier mouthfeel, fairly tannic but lingering and flavorful finish.
  • 2005 “Candy Core,” Alta Mesa Vineyard, Santa Barbara County. A not-yet-released dessert wine made from whole-cluster late-harvest Grenache, this has only about 2.5% residual sugar. Unusual wine that's not quite late-harvest Zin, not quite Port, not over-ripe or overly sweet. Very rich, plummy and spicy, it needs some time to come together but it's tasty even now.

    Comments: I've tasted Dave Corey's wines many times, but doing it this all-Iberian-varietal context leant the wines a new perspective. Overall, the wines are very good but will benefit from more bottle age.

Eden Vale Wines

  • 2006 Garnacha. Rogue Valley. Very light red-purple color, intense and very pure ripe strawberry and raspberry aromas, bright acidity and a long flavorful finish. This is the first Garnacha from the vineyard.
  • 2003 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley. Medium red color, earthy plum, tobacco, and herb aromas, with a touch of sweet oak, medium-bodied with fine tannins. The longer bottle age on this wine surely helped round it out in comparison to most other Tempranillos at the tasting.

    Comments: This winery, located in southern Oregon's Rogue Valley, was a real find – both wines being poured were among the best I tasted at this event.
Ron Silva, Silvaspoons Vnyd

Fenestra Winery

  • 2007 Verdelho, Silvaspoons Vineyard, Lodi. Very light straw color, ripe, sweet peach / stone fruit aromas, moderately rich mouthfeel, not unlike the Alta Mesa version of this wine.
  • 2007 Torrontés, Silvaspoons Vineyard, Lodi. Very light color, floral, perfumey, Muscat-like nose, ripe apricot / stone fruit flavors with a smooth finish. Very unusual and exotic, and should be appealing to fans of dry Muscat.
  • 2005 Alvarelhão, Silvaspoons Vineyard, Lodi. Medium red-purple, earthy plum and boysenberry aromas with some undercurrents of spice and oak, not too tannic.
  • 2006 Tempranillo, Silvaspoons Vineyard, Lodi. Medium-light color, more prominent oak notes in the nose, along with wild berry and smoke. Medium weight on the palate, this is still very young with some firm tannins.
  • 2005 Touriga, Silvaspoons Vineyard, Lodi. Medium color, this displays more earthy elements in the aromas than Fenestra's other wines, along with plum, blackberry fruit and a touch of clove. With some rich vanilla/oak, it's big and mouth-filling, with grippy tannins.

    Comments: Fenestra was pouring wines all made with fruit from Lodi's Silvaspoons Vineyard, a prime source of Iberian grape varieties for many California wineries.

JR Storey Winery

  • 2006 Tempranillo, Paso Robles. From a vineyard near San Miguel, this had medium color with very smoky ripe dark fruits in the nose. Plum and boysenberry flavors along with a touch of vanilla/oak, fairly rich on the palate, and finishing with chewy tannins. A flavorful young wine that promises to improve after the oak and tannins resolve.
  • 2007 “Novella,“ Central Coast. 65% Tempranillo, 30% Grenache, 5% Syrah. Medium color, brighter fruit character than the Tempranillo, with spicy overtones. Very nice textrure in the mouth, with surprisingly modest tannins for such a youngster.
  • 2007 Grenache, Arroyo Grande Valley. Fairly light color, this had earthy strawberry/cherry fruit but seemed somewhat volatile in the nose.
  • 2006 Grenache, Arroyo Grande Valley. More pure fruit showing in the '06, slightly tart cherry along with some vanilla and spice in the aromas. Medium weight in the mouth, there's a touch of heat in the finish along with moderate tannins.

    Comments: Although the wine is made farther north, JR Storey sources the fruit for these wines from the Central Coast. I preferred the Tempranillo and "Novella" to the Grenaches.

James Judd & Son Vineyards

  • 2006 Tempranillo, Paso Robles. Medium-deep red-purple, intense cherry and plum aromas with distinct spicy overtones, some earthy notes in the mouth, fairly full-bodied with firm tannins on the finish.

    Comments: A new winery to me, this wine was aged in Hungarian, American, and French oak, and bottled just about a month before the tasting. I thought this was one of the best Tempranillos I tasted at the event.

Longoria Wines

  • 2007 Albariño, Clover Creek Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley. Light gold color, shy stone fruit aromas and spice, with some mineral notes and bright acidity on the palate. This is a leaner, lower-alcohol style than most tasted at this event.
  • 2005 Tempranillo, Clover Creek Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley. Medium-dark color, plum, blueberry, and darker fruits in the nose along with vanilla and smoke (from 40% new American oak). With just a touch of earth and leather mingling with the fruit, the wine displayed a plush mouthfeel and medium tannins.

    Comments: A nice surprise – two very good Iberian-varietal wines from a producer much better-known for their excellent Chardonnays and Pinots.

St. Amant Winery

  • 2007 Verdelho, Amador County. Very light color, more delicate fruit than other Verdelhos tasted, with more lemon / citrus character, lively acidity and clean flavors, very refreshing.
  • 2006 Touriga, Amador County. Medium-dark color, earthy dark fruits and spice, with just a hint of some floral scents, very nice texture on the palate, moderate tannins.
  • 2005 Tempranillo, Amador County. Medium-dark color, ripe black fruit in the nose with vanilla/oak overtones, very rich mouthfeel and firm tannins.
  • NV Tawny Port, Amador County. From 100% Bastardo grapes, light brick-red color, intense caramel, nut, and butterscotch aromas. Rich and mouth-coating, with a long, long finish. Very yummy – quick, someone bring me a pecan pie to have with this wine!

    Comments: Stuart Spencer of St. Amant explained that the Port was first put into barrel in 2002 and then pretty much ignored for years, until it was bottled a couple of months before the tasting – now that's non-interventionist winemaking!

Tejada Vineyard

  • 2005 “Tejada,” Lake County. 58% Tempranillo, 42% Garnacha. Medium color, raspberry and earth aromas, this is a leaner style than most wines tasted at this event. Lively mouthfeel with moderate tannins.
  • 2005 “Tejada Reserve,” Lake County. 87% Tempranillo, 13% Garnacha. Slightly darker color, darker fruit aromas with more pronounced smoky character, distinct mineral notes as well as more noticeable oak, richer mouthfeel and more tannic finish, very nice.

    Comments: Production is tiny for this label, only about 800 cases total. Well-known winemaker Byron Kosuge has been involved with the production of Tejada's wines.

In Addition...

It's never possible to taste all the wines I'd like to at an event like this. In addition to those listed above, wines that I didn't taste but heard from others were very good included those from Verdad (which I've tasted and enjoyed many times in the past), Abacela, and Barreto. And not long after the TAPAS event, I had the good fortune to run into Kevin Hogan, wine buyer for The Spanish Table in Berkeley (which carries imported but not domestic Spanish- and Portuguese-style wines). He offered me some impressions on a few wines he tried at the event but that I wasn't able to taste. He particularly liked the Abacela '07 Albariño, Odisea '06 "Two Rows" Garnacha, Six Sigma '05 Christian's Vineyard Tempranillo, and Twisted Oak '05 Tempranillo. He also mentioned some wines from the tasting that impressed him for their Iberian character – the Alta Mesa Verdelho, C³ "Crazy Eights," Eden Vale Garnacha and Tempranillo, and Six Sigma Tempranillo among others.


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