Everybody who knows anything about wine can tell you that the Tempranillo grape comes from Spain and Malbec comes from Argentina. Period. While the first half of that statement is true—Tempranillo does come from Spain—Malbec’s home turf is actually the Cahors region of France, but it thrived and rose to fame as a single varietal wine in the arid soils of Argentina.
Tempranillo takes its name from the Spanish temprano, meaning early, in reference to the fact that it ripens early in the season. Characteristics vary depending on climate and terrain but it's usually deep ruby in color and has flavors of cherry, plum, cassis, chocolate, and tobacco. In France, Malbec is usually blended with other grapes but on its own it has a deep purple color, both in the glass and on the vine. You can expect flavors of black cherry, blackberry, mocha, violet, and licorice.
Both Tempranillo and Malbec can be made in a fresh, fruity style with just a minimum of oak aging or a deeper, fuller wine with notes of vanilla, spice, and toast picked up in the barrel. On a recent trip to Washington State we were pleased to find really good examples of these traditionally Latin grapes. Here are a few of our favorites.
Milbrandt Vineyards Wahluke Slope Tempranillo 2010 (left) spent 16 months in oak, so if this came from Spain we would call it a Reserva. Bright flavors of fresh cherry and cranberry are joined by lusher, cooked berry notes along with a nice savory earthiness that pairs well with dishes spiced with oregano or thyme.
Gramercy Cellars Walla Walla Tempranillo 2010 mingles luscious flavors of just-picked berries with deep notes of truffle and pine needles. Rub a little pimenton on your steak before you throw it on the grill—this wine can hold up to smoke and spice!
Pomum Cellars Tinto 2010 is a Spanish-style blend that combines 75% Tempranillo with Garnacha (Grenache) and Graciano. Pronounced flavors of black cherry and raspberry with more than just a whisper of flint and cedar may have you shouting olé from the first sip to the last drop.
Airfield Estates Tempranillo 2010 (right) offers flavors of raspberry and black cherry with touches of forest floor and an opulent finish washed over with notes of Mediterranean herbs. This goes great with mushroom dishes or stuffed peppers.
Next, the best Malbecs in Washington...