Iberian Wines from California Vines

Thanks to California’s wide range of geography and microclimates, grapevines transplanted from around the globe can flourish in our soil.

A recent sampling of California wines made from Spanish and Portuguese grapes shows they don’t yet command the same respect as the Golden State’s world-class cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir, but they are making progress.

TAPAS, the Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society, sponsored a tasting last Sunday (June 5) at Fort Mason in San Francisco where I was most impressed by  white wines made from albarino, a Spanish grape that is fairly rare in the United States.

I have tasted a wide variety of albarino from the Rias Baixas region of Spain, so I knew what to look for: fruit tasting of citrus, peaches, or tropical fruit, dry not sweet, somewhat crisp with a nice acid balance.

Tasting Favorites

I’d recommend several albarinos I tasted at Fort Mason on Saturday, starting with the Tangent 2010 from the Paragon Vineyard in Edna Valley.

This $17 wine showed pleasant citrus fruit, a hint of minerality plus a dry finish that would marry well with a classic paella. The wine was poured from a chilled keg, which didn’t hurt the quality one bit and certainly made the line of tasters move much faster!

I’d wait in line for the 2009 Tinto ($24) from Tangent’s sister label, Trenza. This 2009 red wine is a blend of tempranillo, syrah and grenache — also poured from keg. I particularly like the lift of strawberry fruit from the grenache and a mild spiciness that made me want another taste of this San Luis Obispo County winner.

Albarino Honor Roll

Here’s a quick rundown of my favorite albarinos from the Tapas tasting:

Bodega Del Sur Winery’s 2009 from Calaveras County. This $21 wine — a silver medal winner at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition this year — showed moderate spiciness and citrus fruit, leaning toward pomelo.

Bonny Doon Vineyard, known for its offbeat style over the years, scored a winner with its 2009 albarino ($18) from Monterey County. The wine started out slowly, but came alive with taste when paired with a bite of mildy spicy paella studded with mussels, shrimp and sausage from Marco Paella in Rancho Cordova.

Odisea Wine Company’s 2010 Dream albarino from Clements Hills (Lodi) provided another taste of citrus fruit highlights, crisp acid and nice minerality. Fruit from three different vineyards is blended to make this lip-smacking wine.

From the Sonoma Coast comes the 2009 albarino by Paradise Vineyard. This is a nice, clean wine that shows grapefruit and a bit of lemon zest in its flavor profile. It took a gold medal at the 2011 SF Chronicle Wine Competition and the only shop in the Bay Area that I know carries this wine is The Vine at Bridges in Danville where it sells for $20.

For a bit fuller flavor and less acidity, I’d recommend the 2010 Idilico albarino from Washington State. I liked its rounder mouthfeel and smoothness.

Tempranillo & Friends

I’m not a big admirer of U.S. tempranillo, a wine grape that flourishes in Spain, but I did enjoy the 2009 tempranillo made from Amador County fruit by the Jeremy Wine Company.

Jeremy Wine Label

The name behind the wine, Jeremy  Trettevik, is a graphic designer in Lodi who has found another artistic outlet in winemaking. Trettevik has done packaging design work for several Lodi area wineries, but I hope he focuses more on the winemaking end of things.

His tempranillo ($24) tasted of plums with a spicy top note. The wine did not show too much of the leathery character that marks many tempranillos. As befits a talented artist, the eye-catching label design is top-notch.

I also enjoyed the bright red color and cherry fruit of the 2007 Just Joshin tempranillo poured by Stein Family Wines, a small operation out of Napa.

The most unusual wine I tasted was from Alta Mesa Cellars in Galt. The winery is part of Silvaspoons Vineyards, which sources many unusual varietals to otherwineries.

I’d never seen, nor heard of, the trincadiera grape, but I liked the 2010 barrel sample poured by Alta Mesa.

This is a gentle red wine, which reminded me a bit of gamay with a bit of cherry fruit wrapped in a light/medium weight package. It’s mainly grown in Portugal, where it is often blended to make Port, the country’s best-known fortified wine.

I liked the one Port-style wine tasted at the Tapas event and it was from Tesouro Port Cellars in St. Helena. Made from a classic blend of native Portuguese varietals, the 2005 vintage California dessert style wine ($35/fifth, $17/tenth) was a luscious mix of red fruit that lingered on the palate for an agreeably long time.

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