Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tempranillo Super Value Red Wine Buy

There are so many great value alternatives to the traditional Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot but it’s hard to cover them all.

Malbec and Tempranillo are the first wines many people will recommend as a full-flavored red wine that is easy to drink and affordable.

Both are favorites with similar easy-to-drink characteristics with price points at $9-$14. Tempranillo (Temp-rah-NEE-yoh) is Spain’s noble grape. It’s a small black grape that makes a full-bodied wine planted also in South America, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and the United States.

Spanish wines are making a huge impact in the domestic market. “I guess what I really like about the Spanish wines is the great "bang for the buck," said Donna Lattanzio, manager of The Bottle Shop in West Lafayette. “The whites are clean and crisp and go nicely with light food or are great by themselves. I especially like Garnacha (Grenache) by itself or blended with Tempranillo, which makes it more complex and full-bodied.”

Tempranillo is often suggested as an alternative to Cabernet and other big wines. I’d suggest it as an alternative to Merlot or other milder red wines. Of course, if you buy one above the $20 price point that has significant oak aging then you’re going to get a bigger wine.
Tempranillo often combines the taste of dark berries, plum, vanilla, and herbs. It is a great match for beef, pork, even a steak off the grill. It is also a great wine to open with some mild to even stronger-flavored cheeses. Tempranillo usually won’t be as big as a Cabernet but much easier to guzzle down and enjoy!

Spain’s famous Rioja region is the primary growing area for the grape. The Rioja wines usually feature Tempranillo, often blended with Garnacha and occasionally other grapes.

One of the signature producers is Miguel Torres. You can find Torres’ wines in many Indiana wine shops. Lattanzio has visited Spain and had the chance to visit Miguel Torres Sr.

“He was quite a gentleman and shared that most of their employees had followed in their ancestor’s footsteps and worked for Torres,” she recounted. “We had master sommeliers with us every night for dinner and had fabulous meals, but I guess I was pleasantly surprised how nicely all the wines went with the various meat and vegetables tapas and paellas. The wines have a hearty yet spicy flavor to them.”

Spain is the world’s third-largest wine producer with more than 4 million acres of vineyards. More California wineries are taking on Tempranillo each year.

Howard’s Picks:
Creta Roble 2006 – This is a 100 percent Tempranillo bottling that is smooth on the palate with a delightful hint of earthiness. The alcohol is 14.5 percent. Look for it at a number of wine shops in the $12.99 range.

Vina Salceda Rioja Crianza – This is a blend of 90 percent Tempranillo with two other Spanish grapes. This wine is aged for 15 months making it a little bigger with better structure than some young Spanish wines. You can find it at $12-$15.

Twisted Oak – This is a California winery with a sense of humor and great wine-making skills. Its Tempranillo is one of the best I’ve tasted. It’s slightly above the usual price point (just over $20) but well worth it!

Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a wine enthusiast writer and blogger. Read his wine blog at

Friday, October 9, 2009

1 Year of Wine Writing - What I've Learned

One year of writing wine columns, blogging, and other wine experiences has been enlightening. It’s never been boring. It’s never felt like a burden.

It’s easy then to suggest following an interest often pays big dividends even if there is no financial reward.

I’ve probably learned as much about wine in the past 12 months as I had in several of the preceding years. I forced myself to drink a lot more white wine than I ever have before. I took on an additional wine challenge and spent the better part of a month tasting Portuguese wines which I probably would not have done without the added incentive.

Most of the white wines were more enjoyable than expected. Portugal’s wines are a different taste characteristic that’s really interesting.

So, put that Merlot and Chardonnay down and try something different!

This column runs in eight Indiana newspapers or their websites. The combined circulation of those papers is just over 90,000 households by the latest circulation numbers I could find. My wine blog - Grape Sense - A Glass Half Full - generates interesting feedback. I update it 2-3-4 times a week. I might get anywhere from 10-50 hits a day. From the blog, I’ve been asked to do wine tastings, promote sales of chocolate (which I declined), received wine samples, asked where to find certain wines, and a host of other interesting responses.

I mentioned an “additional wine challenge” which is Palate Press. That is a new national online wine magazine that has rounded up bloggers from across the nation and world. I am a contributor, meaning I’ll write something exclusive for them about once a month.
But this column is for the readers, not me. Some of the things I’ve learned or become more convinced of that might help you include:

- Talk about what you’re drinking. Whether it’s with your spouse, a friend, or in a group, talk about the flavors, the acidity, how it feels in the front or back of your mouth. Then think about what you really liked about that wine.

- It really helps to make a few notes about the wines you like. I blog about almost every wine I drink and that’s an extreme, of course. But I’ve also found it really helps me in future purchases.

- Try new wines. Don’t be afraid to pick up something new off the supermarket or wine shop shelf. I’ve found that many wine drinkers will try something new only to learn they like it much better than what they had been drinking the past 2-3 years.

- This column remains about value wine from $15-$20 and under. But I’d also recommend you buy a bottle for a special occasion that costs $5-$10 above your normal limit. Get a recommendation and try a little bit better wine. It helps you establish some parameters to guide your palate. If you like Merlot, buy one that is $10 higher from a name you’ve heard of before but never tried.

Future columns will explore more wine regions, a few planned wine experiences, and I want to do more frequent columns on good value buys – specific wines you can look for in your wine shop.

I’m always thinking about new ideas. Please visit the blog and leave a comment or write me with suggestions, your question, or a comment at