White tempranillo – an interesting addition to Rioja varieties
July 2, 2009
Summer has arrived with a vengeance – well over 100ºF yesterday with no relief in sight. Spain is a funny place to live – we spend nine months complaining about how much we look forward to warm weather and as soon as it arrives we start complaining about it. To get back to the point: with this weather, no one is thinking about red wine, but rather a cool glass or two of white. Yesterday we decided to try a bottle of white tempranillo Rioja made at the agricultural research station near Logroño – a gift from a friend who helped me at the wine and coffee tasting (see the previous post).
White tempranillo is a mutation of the red variety and is one of the new white varietals recently approved by the Rioja Regulatory Council. More on that controversial decision in a future post. The government of La Rioja had been experimenting with this varietal for some time so I was anxious to try it.
The guy who had given me the bottle happens to be the head of the vineyard registry department at the government agricultural office so he knew all about how the grapes had been vinified. They made 10,000 liters from the 2007 vintage and as an experiment, put about 700 liters in small acacia barrels, then put that wine back with the rest. This turned out to improve the wine’s aging capability. Using this kind of wood to make a barrel in itself was intriguing, because I had heard of American, French, Slovenian, Russian, Hungarian, Mongolian and even Spanish oak barrels, but barrels from the acacia tree?? There must be an acacia forest somewhere in the mountains here – I’ll have to check it out.
The wine was surprisingly tasty: straw yellow color, a nose that combined citrus, butter and dried apricots which reminded me a little of viognier if it weren’t for the citrus. It had a medium mouthfeel, and tasted citrusy with apricots along with a little black licorice.
We drank it with some perch fillets lightly fried with a flour and egg batter. As an American born near one of the Great Lakes, raised on fresh water fish, I naturally ate the perch with some tartar sauce, which always makes my wife cringe (she’s right, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! At least I’m not like my brother who puts lemon juice on scrambled eggs!) I have to admit that in this case, she was right to be critical because the tartar sauce gave the wine a metallic taste. Luckily we had drunk over half the bottle of wine in the kitchen while making dinner so we were able to appreciate it in its natural state!
I’m happy that this grape variety can now be planted in Rioja and hope its attractive aroma and taste profile will convince growers to plant it instead of the ubiquitous chardonnay. Want to learn more about this controversy? Stay tuned for the next post, which I will write from Pamplona where I’ll be spending nine days for the festival of San Fermín. My uninhibited mood will definitely show up in the post!