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Showdown at Salt Lick – A Tempranillo Tasting
Over the past few months I have been on a quest to find a light and bright (not sweet) red wine to compliment the Pinots I seem to devour all summer long. Tempranillos resurfaced on the radar screen. The earthy flavors I taste in some Spanish offerings are a turn off. However, I was recently introduced to C3 100% Tempranillo from Core Winery in Santa Barbara and was impressed.
In fairness, I do have an ulterior motive for my interest in this Spanish grape. I want to drink a great wine from a Texas winery. As Texan as I am, and believe me, I can give J.R. Ewing a run for his money, I’ve have not been wowed by many Texas wines. The reason; I think too many Texas wineries keep trying to make Cabernets, Chardonnays, and other wines that are well recognized by the public but just don’t do very well in the heat and inconsistent rainfall in the Texas grape growing regions. To their credit, some wineries are branching out to Spanish and Italian varietals. Sangiovese and Tempranillo are getting a lot of positive press. At the Hill Country Wine and Food Festival in Austin I thoroughly enjoyed McPherson Cellars Winery’s Sangiovese and owner/winemaker Kim McPherson tells me he has Tempranillo in barrel that is showing tremendous promise.
For the uninitiated, Tempranillo is a black Spanish grape that makes a deeply purple wine. The wine was made predominately in the La Rioja and Valdepenas regions dating back as far as the 13th century. A quote attributed to the 13th century poet Alejandro is translated as follows. “There, everyone acknowledges the Cardeniellas – which are good – but the Tempranillos are better.” It has been grown in the US since 1905 but production did not flourish until the 1980’s. Jancis Robinson has described Tempranillo as the perfect marriage between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Flavors and aromas often attributed to Tempranillo are tobacco, plum, leather, berries and herb.
For the Showdown at Salt Lick we set up a small blind tasting both with and without a pairing of some of the finest Texas Bar-B-Q known to man. A Texas red needs to dance with the national food of Texas, don’t you think? Salt Lick is in Driftwood, Texas, near Austin. It had been a staple of Texas Bar-B-Q aficionados for 40 years. The wines chosen were the 2007 C3, 2008 Fall Creek (Tow, Texas) and 2007 Inwood Estates“Cornelious” (Dallas, Texas) all three 100% Tempranillo. The C3 grapes are from Santa Barbara, Inwood from the southwestern end of the Texas panhandle while Fall Creek’s grapes were grown in the first planting of the 35 acre Vineyards at Saltlick owned by our host and adjacent to Salt Lick Bar-BQ. The judges were myself, Donna Beery and the vineyard manager for Salt Lick Jay Knepp. While one might perceive a conflict of interest, the wines were bagged and numbered so this unofficial blind tasting was as objective as possible. The C3 sells for $18, Fall Creek $30 and Inwood $35.
I won’t bore you with all the details of sips, slurps and spits (not much spitting). So here’s the deal. At first we poured the wines and let them sit for about five minutes to mimic the way you’d receive the wines in a restaurant or bar. All three had good color but the C3 was a bit hazier than the others. After the first pass (but not unveiled) we were all in agreement that Inwood showed the best followed by C3 and Fall Creek.
We then let the bottles breathe another 15 minutes and poured again. The results surprised us all. Fall Creek opened up wonderfully as to both nose and flavor while the Inwood faded in both departments but still had a very nice flavor. The C3 improved slightly but for the most part held its own. All paired well with brisket and ribs (sans sauce) but not so well with sausage.
The final vote for the best of this tasting was Fall Creek – 2, C3 – 1, Inwood – 0. It was fun to see the relief on Jay’s face as the bottles were revealed and excitement once he knew his vineyard babies had “done him proud.” This tasting again makes the point that red wines need to breathe to show their best.
I’m glad to see that this “noble grape” of La Rioja is doing well in the Texas Hill Country. I understand the grape is in higher demand by Texas wineries than Texas vineyards are producing, a good sign. No doubt this “marriage of Cabernet and Pinot” will swirl nicely in my glass all summer and I’m anxious to try a few more.