Louisa Rose is convinced that if Tempranillo had been brought to Australia in the 1820s instead of Shiraz, the country would now be a sea of Tempranillo.
The chief winemaker for Yalumba and Hill Smith Family Vineyards likes to paint a picture of a “parallel universe” in which the father of the Australian wine industry, James Busby, brought out cuttings of Tempranillo from Spain instead of Shiraz from France. And she ponders what the industry might have been like today if winemaking pioneers John Macarthur and George Wyndham had planted Tempranillo instead of Shiraz. “Tempranillo is that versatile,” says Rose. “Shiraz makes up 25 per cent of grapes that are picked here, and in Spain that’s Tempranillo.”
Rose describes this relative newcomer on the Australian wine scene as a robust variety that grows vigorously. Like Shiraz, Tempranillo thrives across a broad area, each region bringing out varietal expressions that can be poles apart.
Last year, a group of self-confessed Tempranillo fans, Louisa Rose among them, decided they wanted to explore some of those regional differences. Thus, a winemakers’ collective, TempraNeo, was born. [etk]>
One of the driving forces behind the group, Adelaide Hills winemaker, Peter Leske, of La Linea, got in touch with a few winemakers he thought might be interested, including Frank van de Loo, of Canberra’s Mount Majura Vineyard. Other founding members include Tar and Roses (Alpine Valleys and Heathcote, Victoria), Gemtree Vineyards (McLaren Vale, South Australia) and Mayford (Porepunkah, Victoria). The group held trade tastings in Melbourne and Sydney last year, and this year expanded the program to include workshops for consumers and the trade in Melbourne, Brisbane, northern NSW and Canberra.
Although the group wants to keep its membership small, they are keen to show wines by other producers to further people’s understanding of the variety. As part of that goal, they brought together 18 Tempranillo wines from around Australia, kicking off with Yalumba’s Running with Bulls which Rose says are so named “because the boss ran with the bulls [in Spain] once”. Both are bright and juicy with subtle oak, the Wrattonbully one a little more savoury and fuller bodied of the two.
The bright fresh flavours were in complete contrast to the pungent earthiness of Gemtree Vineyards Luna Roja. Winemaker Mike Brown planted Tempranillo 11 years ago after working vintages in Spain and observing its versatility. He says his site, in the foothills of McLaren Vale and managed biodynamically, is perfectly suited to Tempranillo. “Mount Majura is 660m above sea level and a cool climate. And yet Tempranillo can also do well in a warm climate like McLaren Vale, that's the fascinating thing,” said Brown.
Other McLaren Vale wines shown included Samuel’s Gorge one of only a few in the tasting under cork, and Oliver’s Taranga Small Batch, a biginky wine with abundant oak and cherry notes.
One of the highlights of the tasting was Topper’s Mountain from a 900m vineyard in the New England region of NSW. With a hint of eucalypt and soft tannins, it compared more than favourably with the Mount Majura Tempranillo, an intense, exotic wine which also has a touch of eucalypt.
Although it sells more Pinot Gris, Tempranillo has become the flagship for Mount Majura, which began producing it in 2003.
Clonakilla had stolen the limelight for the Canberra District with its Shiraz Viognier and something different was needed for a small producer to be recognised. “The typical Canberra district vineyard is a fruit salad of French varieties. I think to find the perfect variety for our vineyard you haveto look beyond that list,” said van de Loo.
“We need varieties that belong here. I think you can make very nice Pinot from here but not great Pinot. When we first started making Tempranillo in 2003 I was excited because it was a whole step up in terms of character and personality. We feel the depth and personality in the wine is revealing the character of our place.”
Whereas cooler climate wines tend to have more perfume, spice, red berry flavours and fine firm tannins, Tempranillo from warmer climates tends to be more powerful and concentrated with ‘darker’ characters such asblack cherry and chocolate.
Yet for van de Loo, one of the keys to Tempranillo’s regional differences is not so much whether it comes from a warmer or cooler region as whether it comes from a maritime or a continental climate. “I'm not saying one is better than the other; it's just that it accounts for some of the differences.”
He could be onto something for other inland/continental wines in the line-up showed a consistency of bright sweet fruit, medium body and elegance. These included Pfeiffer Winemakers Selection from Rutherglen, Sam Miranda from King Valley; the classy Mayford from the Alpine Valleys region of Victoria; and Capital Wines’ The Ambassador.
Continuing with the line-up, Sanguine Estate from Heathcote was big and alluring; Glandore Estate from the Hunter Valley had a spicy earthiness, Stella Bella from Margaret River was tannic and savoury; and Bunkers The Box, also Margaret River, somewhat shy of fruit.
Opinions were divided on La Linea because of its overtly pretty, fruity aroma and flavour. La Linea released its first Tempranillo in 2007, although Peter Leske and his partner in the vineyard, DavidLeMire, have years of experience with the variety.
They have two very different Tempranillo vineyards at each end of the Adelaide Hills; this one was from the coolest of the two, Llangibby. “Because of its fragrance, Tempranillo rewards people drinking them in their youth,” says Leske.
The lowest priced wine in the line-up, Tahbilk Nagambie Lakes ($15.45), was well-received, as was Tar & Roses from the Alpine Valleys/ Heathcote regions.
Tar & Roses winemaker Narelle King said while varietals such as Nebbiolo and Sangiovese can be challenging for consumers, Tempranillo is “one step away from a nice Shiraz and one step closer to a Sangiovese or Nebbiolo”.
Therein lies Tempranillo’s potential to be assimilated into the national drinks list. Like Shiraz, it has a broadly appealing palate. “It’s similar to what we are used to drinking but different enough to be appealing,” said Rose.
It also complements the increasingly popular tapas style of dining. “It's a variety that goes very well with food,” says Gemtree’s Mike Brown. “In the next decade, Tempranillo will really come into its own.”