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WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Tom N. » Sat Jul 14, 2007 8:32 pm

I love tempranillos. However, I have a hard time picking them out in a blind tasting. Have any of you detected any characteristic smell/taste profile to identify tempranillo?

This wine was 85% tempranillo and 15% mazuelo. Aged in American and and allion oak for 24 months then 20 month bottle aging.

Deep ruby red color with a tight nose at first. It gradually opens up to show plums, blackberries and a hint of vanilla but is still somewhat shy on the nose. Nice midpalate gell with firm buth smooth tannins and a nice streak of balancing acidity. Black fruits tingle the tongue with black cherry and blackberry predominanting. Nice medium long finish of black fruit and tannic twang.

This wine lights up with food :P . We paired it with roast beef, garlic mashed potatoes, and caesar salad. Especially nice match with the meat as the tannins were tamed and fruit enhanced.

Wine: 2001 Rioja Reserva Conde de Valdemar. 13.5% abv.
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by JoePerry » Sat Jul 14, 2007 11:21 pm

We had a conversation about this not too long ago in a Numathia thread. He's what I said then...

"While a grape like Pinot Gris usually shows radish, Tempranillo doesn't have a set flavor profile... even within Rioja itself there's a lot of variation. I identify Tempranillo based on the structure, nose, acidity, body, mouthfeel, etc. It's a grape that is easily influenced by terroir, climate, oak, ripeness, blending and "other" techniques.

As much as I love Tempranillo based wines, I cant recall ever tasting Temp-based wine from anywhere and saying “this is a pure expression of Tempranillo.” For me, Allemand’s Cornas Sans Soufe tastes like pure Syrah, or Trimbach CSH as Riesling. When I drink Tempranillo based wines I say things like “this is a great Tondonia” or “classic Vina Real” or “horrendous abomination from the Toro”. I’ve actually read the words of critics who have considered Tempranillo a workhorse, or less noble, grape simply because it lacks a typical nuance. I don’t find Tempranillo so anonymous, but again, it must be identified by other (IMO, more important) characteristics rather than simply strawberries, currents, plums, raspberries, prunes, etc.

It's more important to define what you want. "


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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Tom N. » Sat Jul 14, 2007 11:50 pm

Hi Joe,

I was hoping you would respond. I like your analysis, probably because it agrees with my own observations and because it explains the essence of tempranillo much better than I ever could. I agree that tempranillo is a grape that is sensitive to terroir. I would argue for the purist, this is perhaps the best arguement for tempranillo being a noble grape. Thanks for your opinion.
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by JoePerry » Sat Jul 14, 2007 11:52 pm

Tom N. wrote: I agree that tempranillo is a grape that is sensitive to terroir. I would argue for the purist, this is perhaps the best arguement for tempranillo being a noble grape.


Well spoken, Tom.

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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Bill Hooper » Sun Jul 15, 2007 12:34 am

For the reasons mentioned, I always throw Tempranillo into the same camp as Sangiovese (which also has hundreds of faces). While I'm absolutely enamored with producers like Lopez Heredia (for Rioja) and Petrolo (for their Torrione Sangiovese), These two vines never quite make it to my table. The lack of typicité can breed deceit -especially for someone who has never found these two vines to be extremely interesting. When it comes to Italy, I'm much more apt to experiment with Nebbiolo and I've completely fallen out of love with most Spanish wines. These days I'm much more content staying north of the 45th.
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Tom N. » Sun Jul 15, 2007 11:35 pm

Hi Bill,

I can see your point and I even tend to agree with you about sangiovese, although I love the super Tuscans, I prefer Nebbiolo and valpolicella. I still love tempranillo despite its mercurial character it really appeals to me.
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Rahsaan » Mon Jul 16, 2007 6:58 am

Tom N. wrote:I agree that tempranillo is a grape that is sensitive to terroir. I would argue for the purist, this is perhaps the best arguement for tempranillo being a noble grape..


Au contraire.

I do not wish to weigh in on the argument of whether tempranillo should or should not be considered noble, but the above logic seems flawed.

Because, if there is no distinctive taste/character of tempranillo then how do you know what you are drinking. According to your definition all you are drinking is a terroir/elevage wine, but the noble character of the grape is by definition nonexistant and less relevant than in classic Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, etc where the noble character of the grape is expressed through a particular terroir and elevage.
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Sue Courtney » Mon Jul 16, 2007 4:15 pm

Tom N. wrote:I love tempranillos. However, I have a hard time picking them out in a blind tasting. Have any of you detected any characteristic smell/taste profile to identify tempranillo?

In old style Riojas I used to pick it as Rioja because of the overt coconutty American oak and the orange peel / jaffa characteristics to the finish.
Now I'm seeing more tempranillos from Spain, not just from Rioja and quite a few young wines as well. I don't always pick up such overt American oak - sometimes I don't pick up any American oak, but I still think the orange peel /acidic flare to the finish is a characteristic of the grape.
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Hoke » Mon Jul 16, 2007 4:22 pm

JoePerry wrote:We had a conversation about this not too long ago in a Numathia thread. He's what I said then...

"While a grape like Pinot Gris usually shows radish, Tempranillo doesn't have a set flavor profile... even within Rioja itself there's a lot of variation. I identify Tempranillo based on the structure, nose, acidity, body, mouthfeel, etc. It's a grape that is easily influenced by terroir, climate, oak, ripeness, blending and "other" techniques.

As much as I love Tempranillo based wines, I cant recall ever tasting Temp-based wine from anywhere and saying “this is a pure expression of Tempranillo.” For me, Allemand’s Cornas Sans Soufe tastes like pure Syrah, or Trimbach CSH as Riesling. When I drink Tempranillo based wines I say things like “this is a great Tondonia” or “classic Vina Real” or “horrendous abomination from the Toro”. I’ve actually read the words of critics who have considered Tempranillo a workhorse, or less noble, grape simply because it lacks a typical nuance. I don’t find Tempranillo so anonymous, but again, it must be identified by other (IMO, more important) characteristics rather than simply strawberries, currents, plums, raspberries, prunes, etc.

It's more important to define what you want. "


Best,
Joe


That's a lot of words to say "No".
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Kyrstyn Kralovec » Mon Jul 16, 2007 5:12 pm

Interesting thread. My palate sucks and I'm lousy at differentiating between grapes, but I'm pretty sure I'd never mistake a 2002 Numanthia for anything else! Image
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by JoePerry » Mon Jul 16, 2007 6:54 pm

Rahsaan wrote:
Tom N. wrote:I agree that tempranillo is a grape that is sensitive to terroir. I would argue for the purist, this is perhaps the best arguement for tempranillo being a noble grape..


Au contraire.

I do not wish to weigh in on the argument of whether tempranillo should or should not be considered noble, but the above logic seems flawed.

Because, if there is no distinctive taste/character of tempranillo then how do you know what you are drinking. According to your definition all you are drinking is a terroir/elevage wine, but the noble character of the grape is by definition nonexistant and less relevant than in classic Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, etc where the noble character of the grape is expressed through a particular terroir and elevage.


Rahsaan, the character of the grape is expressed in the structure, mouthfeel, and aromatic presence.

Just because it doesn't have constant cherry fruit or green pepper doesn't mean there aren't ways of discerning Tempranillo.

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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Rahsaan » Mon Jul 16, 2007 8:03 pm

JoePerry wrote:Rahsaan, the character of the grape is expressed in the structure, mouthfeel, and aromatic presence.

Just because it doesn't have constant cherry fruit or green pepper doesn't mean there aren't ways of discerning Tempranillo.


There are ways of discerning every grape, but that doesn't make them all noble.

I sort of see your argument, but I still disagree with the premise that the grape is less distinctive than the terroir so therefore it is noble.

In that case why not elevate pinot blanc or viognier to the noble status, I mean they are both high susceptible to different terroir as well.

Although viognier is so distinctive..
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by JoePerry » Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:16 pm

I suppose. To be honest, the only time I have thought about specific types of grapes as "noble" has been in reaction to the comments of others.

I live in a very Burgundian state of mind where terroir is terrific, but only if the producer knows what to do with it. There has been artificial Darwinism that has whittled away at the diversity of vines in the world, and I suppose much of that was based on both assumed and actual potential, but I don't believe that there is some inherent quality that makes Cabernet Sauvignon better than Tempranillo. Once you get to the major league of wine grapes, it is all what you do with them. Look at La Grand Rue - same grapes, same terroir, and yet it is no La Tache or Romanee Conti...

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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Tom N. » Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:25 pm

Hi Rhasaan,

Your arguements for noble grape status are:

1. A grape variety has to have a distinctive taste not amenable to modification by terroir.

2. Expression of terroir in a grape variety is not, by itself, enough for it to be considered a noble variety.

Well, if that is the case I don't think any grape variety would qualify as noble in all cases. Why? Because I have tasted Cabs, syrahs, and pinots in certain wines that had little if any of their usual signature tastes of cassis, pepper, or cherries, respectively. They were still good wines, but according to your criteria they were not noble because they were grown and made in a way that gave an uncharacteristic flavor signature.
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Rahsaan » Tue Jul 17, 2007 7:08 am

Tom N. wrote:Your arguements for noble grape status are:

1. A grape variety has to have a distinctive taste not amenable to modification by terroir.

2. Expression of terroir in a grape variety is not, by itself, enough for it to be considered a noble variety.

Well, if that is the case I don't think any grape variety would qualify as noble in all cases. Why? Because I have tasted Cabs, syrahs, and pinots in certain wines that had little if any of their usual signature tastes of cassis, pepper, or cherries, respectively..


Let's not get crazy.

There are horrible wines made from all grapes but that doesn't mean all grapes are the same or that different grapes don't have different potential for different types of wines.

My definition for "noble" grapes would not focus too heavily on the distinctiveness of the grape, because then you would be forced to elevate some weird variety like Muscat to that status. I would focus more on potential for elegance, knowing full well that was almost impossible to define :D
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Rahsaan » Tue Jul 17, 2007 7:11 am

JoePerry wrote:but I don't believe that there is some inherent quality that makes Cabernet Sauvignon better than Tempranillo.


Who said anything about noble grapes being better than non-noble grapes.

Personally for me there is something about the potential elegance in pinot noir, syrah, riesling and nebbiolo that sets them apart from grapes like gewurztraminer, muscat, or carignan.

That doesn't mean they are "better" as good wines always have a place at the table. Just different places for different foods, moods, settings, etc.
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Hoke » Tue Jul 17, 2007 12:09 pm

some weird variety like Muscat


Excuse me?
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Rahsaan » Tue Jul 17, 2007 12:16 pm

Hoke wrote:
some weird variety like Muscat


Excuse me?


You're excused..

For apparently not thinking that Muscat is a quirky grape.
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Hoke » Tue Jul 17, 2007 1:31 pm

Rahsaan wrote:
Hoke wrote:
some weird variety like Muscat


Excuse me?


You're excused..

For apparently not thinking that Muscat is a quirky grape.


Well, in ampelographical terms, it's been around for a whole hell of a lot longer than your upstart Cabernets and bastard Chardonnays (Gouais, anyone?).

It has a storied history---and pre-history history--- and has been celebrated by the Greeks and Romans in antiquity, enjoying sufficient popularity to spread through pretty much all the wine-growing cultures. It has also managed to be a constituent grape in a vast range of superb wines...as well as more than a few mediocre ones, sure.

You seem to be intent on pursuing a nebulous and vague, virtually indefinable (or at best infinitely multi-definitional) phantom of a "noble" grape variety, yet put one of the oldest of the old world wine grapes into nothing more than the 'weird and quirky' category, dismissing it from consideration?

As best as I can tell, you seem to include as one of the characteristics of a "noble" variety the ability to impart a distinctive quality from the grape to the wine. Does Muscat not do this...and in such a way to put other varieties to shame? I would imagine popularity would have to come in to play as well, since unpopular wines would by definition not stay around long enough, or be widespread enough, to become "noble" in the first place? And is Muscat not one of the most widely propagated grapes around the world, in ubiquity of locations if not always in volume?

It might interest you to know that many wine writers/catalogers include in their lineup of "noble" varieties, the grape Semillon. I would say that Muscat would be a far superior candidate for inclusion into the club of nobility than Semillon.

But Muscat quirky? Yeah. As if all those multi-generational inbreeders and social parasites we call the nobility weren't quirky as well? :wink:

FYI, before you continue this discussion any further, you probably ought to drop the misnomer "noble" and come up with a better word, else you will never be able to define your terms and come to any sort of agreement (or stalemate).
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Rahsaan » Tue Jul 17, 2007 1:44 pm

Hoke wrote:put one of the oldest of the old world wine grapes into nothing more than the 'weird and quirky' category, dismissing it from consideration?


Most of the Muscat wines I have had were indeed weird and quirky (limited to Alsace I must admit). Which as you know does not mean that I dismiss them from consideration and in fact would be happy to have some in my cellar.

That doesn't mean I would treat them the same way as a "Grand Cru" riesling, chenin blanc, or even chardonnay to be drunk while kneeling in a grand state of submission and reverence. But how often can we do that anyway.

It might interest you to know that many wine writers/catalogers include in their lineup of "noble" varieties, the grape Semillon.


That is interesting indeed. I've never had a 100% Semillon wine.

FYI, before you continue this discussion any further, you probably ought to drop the misnomer "noble" and come up with a better word, else you will never be able to define your terms and come to any sort of agreement (or stalemate).


Yes, I don't want to come across as the Apologist for Wine Hierarchies and Categories and I don't need to have strict definitions for why some grapes are noble and others are not noble.

I use the word when speaking however because it does convey a bit of what I was referring to above, in that for me certain wines are more likely to convey elegance and therefore get treated differently (in terms of food preparation, cellar-potential, occasion to serve, etc) than wines that are more rustic or quirky.
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Hoke » Tue Jul 17, 2007 2:28 pm

Well, you're sort of quirky yourself, you know. In a good way.

It's natural for us humans to attempt to impose some sort of hierarchy or ordination or categorical definition system for everything we come across. How should wine be any different? Trouble is, once again, wine is so subjective, so internalized, that any attempt at a categorization is individual, or at best so general and arguable and often qualified as to be essentially meaningless.

Still, it allows us to grope towards some sort of conclusions and understanding of what the hell we're all talking to each other about.

And for the record, I have no problem with categorizations of grape varieties, or even wines. What I object to is the use of the word 'noble' (versus what, ignoble?). That word carries so much inevitable freight, so much connotational weight, that it automatically puts the discussion at a disadvantage. It presupposes some sort of meritocracry through aristocracy. I know you are using it more in the sense of heritage/continuity/consistency of flavor, but it is still a loaded word that doesn't work for me.

The other problem I have is how to "rate" (and rating is, let's be frank, just another word for "points") terms like elegance, quirky, rustic. Is a well made Muscat from superior place and a superior winemaker in a superior vintage more or less "elegant" than a poorly made Petite Chateau from Bordeaux? Is a Madiran more "rustic" than a St. Joseph? And if so, why? What makes one a country bumpkin and the other an urban sophisticate?

Nah. Since you're still in that University world (for the time being) I'd have to echo at least one, if not most, of your Professors and chide you for not more carefully defining your terms. How can you make your point if you haven't defined your terms and supported your premise? :wink:

Oh, and Semillon? You could try a Hunter Valley Australian Semillon. Not a grape/style that I particularly care for, but there's lots of pundits and punters that rave about it. Conversely, there are a handful (small hand) of California Semillons you can find when you get back here. Most Semillon is still blended with SB though; you don't see it too often as a disctint variety. And maybe there is a reason for that, purported nobility nothwithstanding?
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Rahsaan » Tue Jul 17, 2007 2:37 pm

Hoke wrote:Is a Madiran more "rustic" than a St. Joseph?


Impossible to say. I think we both agree that you would have to bring out specific examples to really make any point (and to fill any discussion board).

Of course generally speaking we can say that Madiran tends to be more rustic than St Joseph because of the rough tannins while St Joseph tends to be more rustic than Cote Rotie because of the lack of finesse.

But, obviously you can find individual wines from all three appellations on all sides of the rustic/elegant divide.

Still, syrah seems to have a higher potential for elegance than tannat, which would qualify it for a more "noble" status in my view. Although the land is a huge issue and one could perhaps argue that tannat isn't planted on the best/most noble sites (if we need more classification based on endless imprecise variables).

Yes, whenever I find the time I'll get around to that Semillon (as well as renewed appreciation for Muscat) :D
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Sue Courtney » Tue Jul 17, 2007 5:54 pm

Rahsaan wrote:
Hoke wrote:Is a Madiran more "rustic" than a St. Joseph?


Impossible to say. I think we both agree that you would have to bring out specific examples to really make any point (and to fill any discussion board).

Of course generally speaking we can say that Madiran tends to be more rustic than St Joseph because of the rough tannins while St Joseph tends to be more rustic than Cote Rotie because of the lack of finesse.

But, obviously you can find individual wines from all three appellations on all sides of the rustic/elegant divide.

Still, syrah seems to have a higher potential for elegance than tannat, which would qualify it for a more "noble" status in my view. Although the land is a huge issue and one could perhaps argue that tannat isn't planted on the best/most noble sites (if we need more classification based on endless imprecise variables).

Yes, whenever I find the time I'll get around to that Semillon (as well as renewed appreciation for Muscat) :D


I commented on some Madirans the other day in my Three Healthy French Reds posting. No responses :-( and already down to page 3 on the forum. As for rusticity of Madirans - it really depends on how they are made. One of the three I tasted was definitely what I would call rustic. The other two I though quite modern in style.

Anyway, what happened to the discussion on the signature tastes of Tempranillo?
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Re: WTN: Rioja. Does tempranillo have a signature taste?

by Tom N. » Tue Jul 17, 2007 10:54 pm

Sue Courtney wrote:Anyway, what happened to the discussion on the signature tastes of Tempranillo?


We have digressed as often happens in these type discussions.

I guess I still like Joe Perry's definition of tempranillo's uniqueness the best: "I identify Tempranillo based on the structure, nose, acidity, body, mouthfeel, etc. It's a grape that is easily influenced by terroir, climate, oak, ripeness, blending and "other" techniques."

It just means I will have to drink a lot more tempranillos to discover that combination of characteristics that give it a unique signature and clearly imprint it onto my palate. A tough job that I will love.
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