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State of Play: Tempranillo

We last looked at the state of play of Tempranillo in Australia four years ago, and at the time, winemaker Peter Leske admitted, “We still have a lot to learn.” 

Since then, like all good students, our winemakers have taken lessons from their errors and applied them to the pursuit of improvement. And according to Frank van de Loo of Mount Majura in the Canberra District, it’s been a team effort. 

“Tempranillo could probably only be exceeded by Pinot Noir in the extent to which winemakers have shared their early experiences with the variety,” he says. “This has really helped us move quickly from some early mistakes (like using too much oak) towards finding the best styles to make in different regions.” 

For Wine Selectors Tasting Panellist Adam Walls, the fact Tempranillo thrives in varied regions is one of the exciting things about it. “We have seen some great wines made from both warmer and cooler climate regions,” he says. 

However, for Eleana Anderson, the winemaker behind a Tempranillo consistently rated as one of Australia’s best, having both cool and warm conditions is ideal. Mayford Wines, which Eleana owns with her partner, vigneron Bryan Nicholson, is situated in Victoria’s Alpine Valley. This highly continental region, she explains, “Shares some similarities with the great viticultural regions of northern Spain, in that it is surrounded by mountains, relatively elevated and enjoys a strong diurnal range during the ripening season.” 

Given Tempranillo has a reputation for losing acidity as it ripens, these conditions are perfect for the variety, she says. “Warm days allow grapes to ripen sufficiently and the katabatic mountain winds send cool air through the valleys at night, enabling greater natural acid retention and aromatic intensity.”

It’s for similar reasons that Mike Calneggia of Rosabrook wines has discovered that Margaret River is another great home for the variety. “Margaret River has a maritime climate, which means generally warm days and cool nights. This means that the ripening process for Tempranillo is very stable.” 

Similarly, Charles Whish, winemaker at Serafino, attributes the bright, juicy fruit characters and lovely soft tannins of his Tempranillo to the maritime climate of McLaren Vale. 

Climate suitability is one consideration, but Frank van de Loo has also learnt that site selection can be influential. Within Mount Majura’s Tempranillo vineyard, there are three distinct areas and, he explains, “We’ve found that making wine separately from our separate Tempranillo sites consistently expresses the character of each particular patch.”

Site selection is also a factor Eleana and Mike have established is important when it comes to taming the vine. “Tempranillo is a relatively vigorous variety,” Eleana explains. “We have found that the boney, shaley soils on our dry-grown vineyard help pull back berry size and yield, allowing better concentration and power in the resulting wine.” 

Likewise, Mike adds, “Most of our Tempranillo are planted on almost pure gravel, a particularly hard site, however, we still have to work hard to control the vigour with leaf plucking and careful water application.” 

Uniquely Australian

Given Tempranillo is the number one grape variety in Spain, as Charles Whish points out, “Any wine made with it will always be compared with a Spanish style.” In the Rioja region, the wines have to include at least 95 percent Tempranillo and they’re made in four different styles. Starting with the everyday drinking Rioja, next comes Crianza, then Reserva and at the top level, Gran Reserva. 

If you compared Serafino’s take on Tempranillo to the Spanish styles, Charles explains, “The Bellissimo Tempranillo is bright and fruity with mid palate weight, and while minimum oak gives mouthfeel, it can be chilled and enjoyed in summer. In Spanish terms, it might be a Crianza.” 

In contrast, Mike feels the Spanish and Australian styles differ significantly. 

“Australian winemakers aren’t bound by the same rules as the Denominación de Origen Calificada that Spanish winemakers must abide by.” This means, he adds, “The Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva wines must be barrel aged for a minimum of 12 to 24 months.”

And this is not always to the benefit of the wines, he explains, “When I went to Spain for the first time I couldn’t help thinking that a lot of the wonderful wines would be far better off without the long maturation requirements.” 

His verdict? “I’ve tasted some remarkable Rioja, but I have to say I am a big fan of Australian Tempranillo, grown in the right area, of course.”

For Eleana, ignorance of the Spanish style turned out to be bliss. “I have never set out to model Mayford Tempranillo on any other wine style,” she says. “When I made our first vintage in 2006, I’d had no prior experience with the variety. I just sort of winged it, handling it much like Pinot Noir. As it turns out, this approach seemed to suit our fruit and over the years we have evolved a distinctive house style.”

Time on Temp’s side

According to Charles, the Serafino Bellissimo has great appeal for their consumers and Adam Walls adds, “Some of the most delicious Tempranillos are made with short term drinking in mind.” 

However, Frank points out that this trend, “has been balanced by the number of serious and structured wines being made, wines that are suited to ageing.” 

And Mike agrees, saying, “We are seeing older wines that have been well cellared still drinking exceptionally well after nearly 10 years.” 

For Adam, Australian Tempranillo’s ability to age comes down to a number of factors. “Older vineyards are giving more intensely flavoured fruit,” he describes. “Couple this with more sensitive use of oak and better tannin management, and the result is more balanced wines with finer tannins that age more gracefully.” 

On the up and up

In the four short years since our last Tempranillo state of play, while Australian winemakers have come a long way, they anticipate even greater improvements. 

“I’m still excited about it after making it for more than 15 years,” Frank says. “And our best wines are still ahead of us!”

Eleana sees it becoming an entrenched variety. “As our relationship with it continues to deepen and mature, I am certain it will become a central fixture of the national wine offering.” 

Mike also sees wine-lovers gaining a greater appreciation for the variety. “I think the rising popularity of Tempranillo in the higher price points will continue as more people start to understand the attributes of the style.” 

So it seems the Australian school of Tempranillo is still open, with plenty of delicious lessons to be learnt for both winemakers and wine-lovers alike – olé! 

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Alejandro Tempranillo 2018
Riverland, RRP $20

Made by rising-star, Alex Russell, in a region making its mark as one of Australia’s capitals for alternative varieties. His 2018 vintage is made from an excellent Spanish clone, akin to a young, early drinking Rioja. It has a nose of raspberry jam, red olive and new leather. Medium weight with red cherry brightness, it has excellent tannin harmony and raspberry fruit drive. Fine Fumé complexity and lovely freshness.

Allegiance Wines The Fighter Tempranillo 2017
Barossa Valley, RRP $25

A real surprise packet from Allegiance, this wine is quite the brute, making it one for the big red drinkers! Fragrant on the nose with berry fruit, vanilla, chocolate, sangria and violet perfume. Concentrated, youthful and intense, it’s massively flavoursome with dense blue and purple fruit characters, yet it remains savoury with cola, iodine and dried herb plus sweet toasty oak on the long, juicy finish.

BELLWETHER TEMPRANILLO 2017
WRATTONBULLY, RRP $30

Winemaker Sue Bell shows us what aged vines can do to the final product. This Tempranillo has earthiness in spades, but also richness and dark fruit, characteristics not always associated with this variety. A medium density red, it shows fragrant violet perfume over plum, rhubarb and black cherry. Full-bodied and fruit-focused with a jammy red and black fruit core, it features hints of black tea and pepper, bright acidity and vanillin oak. 

Delatite Tempranillo 2018
Goulburn Valley, RRP $35

Delatite is a Victorian winery focussed on cool climate wines made following biodynamic principles. Using minimal intervention in the winery, their wines evoke a sense of place, with this Tempranillo giving a true taste of north-east Victoria. Deep, dark red purple in the glass, it shows delicate aromas of red and blue fruit with cedar perfume. An array of jubey fruits, rose petal and floral notes make for a flavour-packed yet pretty wine with savoury oak to finish. 

First Creek Tempranillo 2016
Hilltops, RRP $30

First Creek have extracted every ounce of flavour in this Tempranillo, which is surprisingly well weighted and robust, considering its cool climate growing location. Presenting a deep ruby red colour, it features concentrated blackberry, plum, black pepper and vanillin oak aromas. A robust and full-bodied wine, it’s rich in dark fruit flavour with supple, silken tannins and savoury length and power. 

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Gemtree Luna Roja Tempranillo 2017
McLaren Vale, RRP $30

Gemtree have had Tempranillo growing in their McLaren Vale vineyard for 20 years now, so we can confidently say they are a bit of a dab hand! Organic and biodynamic, this is pure rich ripe Tempranillo at its best. Bright red berry, plum and damp earth aromas precede a plush, full-bodied palate with layers of red and black fruit, fine tannin foundation, mouth-watering acidity 
and a long, ripe finish.

Hither & Yon Tempranillo 2018
McLaren Vale, RRP $29

Hither &Yon are one of the big drivers of the alternative varietal push and their Tempranillo made the Tasting Panel really take notice. Really putting the McLaren Vale stamp on Tempranillo, it displays blackberry, plum, cigar box and vanillin oak aromas. Deep, rich and long, it’s bursting with ripe, vibrant black and purple fruit flavours, it has signature varietal muscular tannin foundation and loads of savoury oak in support. 

jackson’s hill tempranillo 2017 
hunter valley, RRP $25

Jackson’s Hill continues to deliver fantastic Hunter Valley wines, and this savoury Tempranillo is no exception. Fresh and vibrant for early drinking, it’s deep red purple in the glass, and displays aromatic hints of raspberry, mulberry, blueberry and spice. Medium bodied, ripe and fruit-driven, it is rich in red and blue fruit characters. Velvety tannins give a plush mouth-feel and flavour sweetness, with fresh acidity and complementary oak.

Lock & Key Reserve Tempranillo 2017
Hilltops, RRP $30

From the team at Moppity Vineyards comes this stunning, elegant mid weight expression of Tempranillo. It’s a classic Spanish red table wine style, ready to drink young. It allures with a nose of elegant perfumed freshness with bright red cherry and touches of Campari, tobacco and lavender. A medium-bodied style showing excellent harmony with long, fine flavours of red cherry and dried herb.

Mayford Tempranillo 2017
Alpine Valleys, RRP $38

You might never have heard of Porepunkah in Victoria’s Alpine Valleys, but it’s responsible for one of the finest expressions of Tempranillo in Australia. A perennial winner of Gold medals at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, Mayford’s Tempranillo presents a perfumed lift of blackcurrant, black cherry, pipe tobacco, mint and five spice. It’s powerful yet elegant with fine yet deep tannins driving the black fruit core.

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Mazza Tempranillo 2011
Geographe, RRP $27

Given that at Mazza they only grow and produce Portuguese and Spanish varietals, you can be assured they know what they are doing with Tempranillo! Crafted from vines almost 20 years old, this aged expression features lovely savoury power with red cherry, red olive and game in harmony with barrel spice. Massive yet gentle with inky, curranty power and lashings of tarry black olive over savoury drying tannins, giving real varietal personality.

McWilliam’s Mc.W Alternis Tempranillo 2017
Gundagai, RRP $25

McWilliam’s might be one of Australia’s oldest wine families, but they bring contemporary style to this Trophy-winning Tempranillo. It shows ripe red and blue fruit perfume with savoury cola and tobacco notes. Powerful and elegant, it features slippery mulberry and blueberry fruit sweetness, very fine tannins and crunchy acidity. Concentrated yet with excellent finesse.

mount majura vineyard tempranillo 2016
canberra district, RRP $48

Canberra has the perfect climate to produce quality alternative varietals. The exquisite winemaking at Mount Majura coupled with volcanic, limestone soil created this sublime medium-weight red. Following fragrant dark berry and crushed leaf aromas, comes a palate of dark cherry, vanilla, cola and fresh herb.  A juicy yet savoury style with a ripe core of fruit, terrific texture and clean acidity to balance. 

PETER LEHMANN H & V TEMPRANILLO 2018
BAROSSA VAlley, RRP $25

This Tempranillo is definitely on the heftier end of the spectrum, but it loses no flavour or varietal nuance. It has all the savoury, earthy hallmarks of the variety, with a bit of Barossa grunt for good measure! Bold and flavoursome, it features an expressive mix of ripe black fruits with attractive savoury complexity, subtle oak spice, varietal tannin depth and a delicious finish.

Rosabrook Single Vineyard Estate Tempranillo 2014
Margaret River, RRP $65

Rosabrook hold up this wine as one of their estate specialties. It’s unashamedly a bigger style, with plenty of power and grunt throughout. Not the wine for a crisp summer salad. Spicy blackcurrant, perfumed florals and vanillin oak aromas lead to an oak-driven palate rich in jammy dark berry fruit with multi-layered tannins, crisp acidity and rustic secondary characters.

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Rusty Mutt Conejo Joven Tempranillo 2017
MClaren Vale, RRP $32

Conejo Joven means ‘young rabbit’ in Spanish, a name chosen after the fact owner and winemaker Scott Heidrich’s son is a Golden Rabbit in Chinese Astrology. Rabbits are also clean, familiar and friendly, much like this wine! Opening with inky black fruit aromas, it has beautiful concentration and depth on the palate with gentle power and layers of velvety tannins. Delicious now, but will also cellar well.

Serafino bellissimo tempranillo 2017
MCLAREN VALE, RRP $20

Serafino mastered alternatives in McLaren Vale back when many new varieties in Australia were emerging. This versatile mid-weight Tempranillo is testament to their pioneering passion. It exudes a mix of rich, ripe red and blackberry fruits with spice and vanilla perfume. It displays a ripe and rich core of dark cherry, a soft velvety tannin drive with generous oak in support.

Tar & Roses Tempranillo 2017
Heathcote, RRP $24

This supple and easy to drink Tempranillo is a terrifically rich and impressive expression of the variety. The strikingly dense red appearance is followed by a powerhouse nose presenting black cherry cola, anise and liquorice aromas. The deluxe palate featuring super-ripe, inky black fruit characters delivers velvety power and immense tannin depth. An iron fist in a velvet glove; this is a thoroughly delicious gentle giant!

Tulloch Cellar Door Release Tempranillo 2018
Orange, RRP $26

This is a lighter ‘Joven’ style of Temp, ready to drink now, from one of Australia’s first wineries to look outside their home region for premium fruit. Opening with blood plum, mulberry, dark cherry and tobacco aromas, it’s medium weight and juicy with a fresh mix of red and purple fruit, attractive five spice complexity, fine tannins and 
a fresh finish. 

Willow Bridge Estate Solana Tempranillo 2017
Geographe, RRP $30

Solana means ‘sunshine’ in Spanish, an apt name given the sunny summers enjoyed in the Geographe region, helping to create incredibly consistent vintages. This 2017 vintage hits the spot with its blackberry, dark cherry, plum and graphite aromas. A powerful wine, saturated with black and blue fruits, it has fine yet deep tannins to balance the robust fruit core, notes of black tea and chocolate and a bright finish.

Discover the taste sensation that is Tempranillo for yourself with this fantastic:

STATE OF PLAY TEMPRANILLO DOZEN or

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