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Australian Tempranillo: Coming into its Own!

My husband had the good fortune to attend the NSW Wine Awards Dinner at Guillaume at Bennelong in October. He came back raving about the Mount Majura Vineyard 2009 Tempranillo (Canberra District), which was among the top 40 best wines of the show.

Mount Majura produced its first vintage of tempranillo in 2003. Since then the wine has garnered so much acclaim that it has become the flagship variety of the winery!

Mount Majura’s Viticulturist and Winemaker Frank van de Loo very much believes that great wine is made in the vineyard, and the volcanic soils on limestone at Mount Majura are in fact quite similar to Artadi’s acclaimed Vina El Pison vineyard, which makes one of the most celebrated Rioja tempranillo wines in Spain.

The Canberra district is in many regards also climatically similar to Rioja and Ribero del Duero, where Spain’s finest tempranillos are made. As British wine critic Oz Clarke observes, “To get elegance and acidity of of Temparnillo, you need a cool climate. But to get high sugar levels and the thick skins that give deep colour you need heat.” Canberra delivers both in spades! (Experimental Grape Varieties in Australia, The Vintage School 2.4, Vintage Direct)

According to The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown, “the best young Tempranillos typically reveal plum, black cherry and blackberry flavours complemented by pepper and spices plus a uniquely earthy/savoury character that is not so dissimilar to great Pinot Noir.  The finest examples can age for twenty years or more.” (Tempranillo Temptations in Asia, eRobertParker.com, May 2009)

Her description of the best young tempranillos sounds remarkably similar to Nick Stock’s recent review of the Mount Majura Tempranillo 2009. “Smells of dark cherry, cassis and brambly berries and baking spices – this is one fine Tempranillo from the Canberra District. The palate has snappy tannin and plenty of sweet fleshy fruit, it handles the alcohol and the oak admirably and makes a brash, delicious young red. 93 points.” (Nick Stock, Wine 100 June 2010)

While more than 100 wineries in Australian have tempranillo plantings and the variety is found in all the major wine regions, it is still a relative newcomer on the Australian wine scene. Brown Brothers in northeast Victoria released Australia’s first vintage of tempranillo in 1996. The wine had been developed in the Brown Brothers “Kindergarten Winery” – a mini winery focused on trialling small batches of new varieties and different wine making techniques. Today Brown Brothers make a straight tempranillo and a limited release tempranillo and graciano blend.

Other top tempranillo producers include Wrattonbully Vineyards, which was established by Yalumba’s Hill Smith family in 1994. The 2009 Wrattonbully Vineyards Tempranillo won Gold Top of Class at the Sydney International Wine Show 2010.  Vibrant crimson with purple hues, the wine has a perfumed nose of blackcurrants, spiced plums and morello cherries and savoury palate with plum and persimmon fruit that finishes soft and round. (Yalumba, The Terra Rossa Wine Club, April 2010).

Mr. Riggs, Tar & Roses, Mayford, Tim Adams and Running with Bulls are also producing fine examples of tempranillo. Campbell Mattinson of The Wine Front scored the 2007 Tar & Roses Tempranillo 93 points and offered this glowing review: ” Really good wine, and distinctive too. It has weight and perfume, loads of chalky tannin and delicious flavours galore. If you like tempranillo you should love this – and if you don’t, this may well convert you. Licorice, tar, earth and leather, with Turkish delight–like accents. In Oz tempranillo terms you could easily call this a landmark release.”

Something approximating a revolution happened to the tempranillo wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero in the 1990s when superstars like Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus, Telma Rodriguez and Juan Carlos Lopez de Lacalle of Artadi stunned critics with their new interpretations of an old wine style. Now Australia and the world are taking note of our winemakers’ unique and modern interpretations of Spain’s most noble grape!

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