LODI — Spain’s king of red grapes, Tempranillo, has found a home in Lodi, where talented growers and winemakers respect and know how to handle the variety.
To celebrate International Tempranillo Day, Bokisch Vineyards is putting on the fourth annual Lodi Tour of Tempranillo Friday through Sunday. This year, 13 boutique wineries in the Lodi American Viticultural Area will showcase their delicious expressions of Tempranillo. Each winery will have a different offering and many will have special tastings available only at this event. Guests may start at any participating winery and pick up a complimentary tour guide and be entered into a raffle for each winery visited. Guidebooks also are available at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Tasting fees may apply.
In addition to Bokisch Vineyards, taking part this year are D’Art Winery, Dancing Coyote Wines, Drava Wines, Fields Family Wines, Goodmills Family Winery, Harney Lane Winery, Heritage Oak Winery, McCay Cellars, McConnell Estates, Riaza Wines, Ripken Vineyards & Winery and St. Amant Winery.
More than 20 years ago, Markus Bokisch chose Lodi as the place to build his vineyard management company and winery because of the area’s unique soils and Mediterranean climate, which are conducive to the varieties of the Iberian Peninsula, his mother’s homeland.
“I wanted to put down my roots and base it on the soils and climate,“ Bokisch said on the From the Vine podcast in July. “It’s a wonderful thing to say, ‘Where am I going to put my roots?’ and find a perfect place for the varieties we’ve chosen.”
In the late 1990s, Bokisch brought plant material directly from Spain and established the Terra Alta Vineyard in the rocky, red-clay soils, rolling hills and Mediterranean climate of Lodi’s Clements Hills sub-AVA. Tempranillo was among his first plantings and his portfolio grew to include Iberian staple grapes Albariňo, Garnacha, Garnacha blanca, Verdejo, Graciano and Monastrell, to name several.
Tempranillo, which has many synonyms including Tinta Roriz, Tinta del Toro and Tinto Fino, is the backbone of Rioja and Ribera del Duero and is the third most-planted wine grape in the world behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. However, in California, Tempranillo is relatively rare. In 2018, only 12,837 tons were crushed in the state compared to 680,307 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon, which is interesting because Tempranillo generally is considered the Cabernet Sauvignon of Spain. Last year, Lodi crushed about 15 percent of the state’s production of Tempranillo.
In Spain, Tempranillo is lifted by an addition of Graciano and then aged in American oak. When consumed fresh, it’s high in tannin with sour and black cherries, tomato sauce, tobacco, cedar and leather. Properly stored, Tempranillo can lay down for years, allowing the tannin to soften and the wine to show maturity.
“(Spanish) Tempranillo only gets better with age,” Bokisch said. “A 20-year-old Tempranillo is always better than a 10-year-old Tempranillo.”
Bokisch Vineyards crafts Tempranillo suitable for consumption upon release but currently has in barrel a 2014 Gran Reserva, which will be six years old upon release next year. By law in Spain, Gran Reserva must age a minimum of five years (three years in barrel, two in bottle). To Bokisch’s knowledge, his will be the first Gran Reserva in California, if not the United States, and said it is been made in the “classic Spanish style.”
For more than two decades, Lodi grower and owner of Harney Lane Winery Kyle Lerner has worked with Tempranillo, initially as the vineyard manager of a plot in Lodi that went to winemaker Mitch Cosentino. In 2007, when Harney Lane Winery was born, Lerner wanted Tempranillo in his portfolio, so he planted the variety on his estate Home Ranch east of Harney Lane’s tasting room.
Tempranillo grapes have a steep learning curve for the grower, Lerner said. “With Tempranillo, everything that makes it what it is happens in the vineyard. It’s one of those varieties you have to understand and play with.”
Lerner said Tempranillo can be somewhat prolific, so managing the balance of the vine through the growing season is important. In Spain, wine made from Tempranillo can be big, leathery, smoky and age-worthy. Harney Lane’s Tempranillo has a flavor profile that falls between Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Its lush notes of fruit lead one toward Zinfandel and the tannin and structure in the background pull one back toward Cabernet Sauvignon.
“The mid-palate has earthy characteristics — mushrooms and truffles, which I love,” Lerner said. “It’s one of the more challenging varieties to hit the target every year, but the rewards are significant. It’s a really beautiful wine.”
Hearty fall and winter dishes are perfect with Tempranillo.
Other Lodi wineries have had great success with Tempranillo, including St. Amant Winery, whose 2014 Road Less Traveled Tempranillo earned Best of Show Red at the 2016 California State Fair.
Contact wine columnist Bob Highfill at (209) 546-8277 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @bobhighfill or @FTV209. Join the From the Vine group page at facebook.com/groups/FTV209. For archived columns and podcast, go to recordnet.com/ftv.