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Sunday, May 26, 2013

So, Tempranillo WON'T be the next big thing?

California's wine renaissance began in the 1970s. It was all about Chardonnay and Cabernet. In the 1990s someone decided Syrah would be The Next Big Thing so folks planted Syrah. Probably lots of grape farmers took out something else and put in Syrah to hop on the coming gravy train. Well, there's still lots of Syrah out there and it's tough finding a home for some of it. Syrah as a varietal never could come close to displacing Cabernet -- or even Merlot. 

In the last few years as people searched for a new trend Tempranillo (tem prah nee oh) often comes up as The Next Big Thing. Tempranillo is native to Spain. It's best as a blending grape because it's usually nothing spectacular on its own. I suppose you could describe it as somewhere between Sangiovese, will less acid, and Cabernet, with less complexity and body. Defenders often call it a very drinkable wine or a food-friendly wine, but you won't find anyone calling it an interesting wine.

One of the regions of recent Tempranillo plantings is in New Zealand.They seem to be planting it in the same area as Pinot Noir. In California it's in hotter regions like Paso Robles and Alexander Valley. 
A big award winner
from Texas

It hasn't taken off in either of these areas as many thought it would, but Tempranillo has gained a good foothold in Texas. They are finding it needs heat, but not too much heat, as the grapes need a fairly long growing season to let the clusters ripen evenly. Some are predicting Tempranillo will become Texas' most popular grape and will have more acreage planted than any other state. Before they go in whole hog they might want to talk to California growers about Syrah.

I'm sure there are a few good Tempranillos out there that are worth the money, but most aren't. But then you could have said the same about West Coast Pinot Noir 30 years ago.

For California we'll have to figure out where to grow it (Sierra foothills?), how to grow it, how to blend (with Grenache, Cabernet, Zinfandel?), and what you can charge for a Tempranillo ($20?). I think Syrah may have failed to really take off because it was made as a straight varietal rather than blended and people often charged the same as they would for Cabernet. That is, I think a $25 Syrah/Grenache blend may work in the market, but a $40 Syrah doesn't. Maybe wineries won't make the same mistakes with Tempranillo. Or maybe consumers won't give a damn about it because they would rather drink Cab or Pinot or Merlot.

BTW, no one seemed to be hyping Pinot Gris/Grigio in the U.S. as it "snuck up" to become the fourth best selling wine in the U.S. Is this because it's a less expensive wine, not something in the premium wines category?