There is a vast number of wine grape varieties on our planet. Sometimes I speculate about which ones have rarely or possibly never been vinified into wine. Mostly I wonder about which uncommon or ignored varieties could be nurtured, and produced by modern methods into quality table wine acceptable for the international marketplace. There may be some exciting grapes just awaiting discovery or more attention. Some wines have been produced for consumption mainly by a specific target market, possibly local or even national, sometimes in a narrow or peculiar range of styles, at least in the eyes of the international market. Such grapes and wines may be ripe for a change in production methodology or viticulture that would yield a wine attractive to a broader market.
Enter TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society). TAPAS is a nonprofit trade association who have made it their mission to promote wines made from grape varietals that arise a little less frequently in wine conversations for many of us. The specific grape varieties promoted by this group of over one hundred wineries and growers are native to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). These grapes are also grown and vinified in the USA. TAPAS member wineries are found over a wide and diverse area, including California, Oregon, Washington, Texas and Arizona.
To some it may seem like a well kept secrete that Iberian grape varietals perform so well when they are grown and made into wine in the USA. As far as TAPAS is concerned there is no secret. It is their mission to spread the word about these exciting grapes. Iberian grape varieties find unusual and beautiful expressions when grown on US soil and fermented into wine. The names of the grapes even sound alluring. Many reds are flavorful and well balanced, and some have excellent structure and intensity with good size. Their quality level is quite competitive. The whites can be exquisitely focused, and sometimes delicately expressive. These wines are loaded with aromas and flavors that will be new to many. The word about these wines is spreading, and they are being seen more frequently on retail shelves.
Another plus of Iberian style wines is that they tend to be budget-friendly. For those looking for something new, or to give friends a new wine experience, or just for a response to the ever-escalating prices of table wine the TAPAS tasting can be an excellent informer.
As trade and consumers gathered at the Golden Gate Club at the Presidio in San Francisco on April 26 to explore these exciting wines, TAPAS celebrated their 9th year since being founded in January of 2006. This year also marks the eighth time their annual Grand Wine Tasting was held. The U-shaped facility at the Golden Gate Club provides several large interior spaces on two levels. Ample entry of daylight, easy access in and out, patios, and beautiful views make this an ideal spot for wine tastings. Seminars were conducted during the tasting to share the knowledge about these exciting grapes. The organizers and hosts were quite responsive to questions and requests. To the winegrowers, kudos for the unique and attractive labels on their bottles!
Although T is the first letter in the TAPAS acronym, standing for Tempranillo , there is a great deal more to celebrate than the Tempranillo grape, as good as it is. Many grape varietals are found on TAPAS’ list of grapes. Some of the more often seen reds are Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano, Monastrell (Mourvedre), and Touriga Naçional. Whites catching attention are Albariño, Torrontes, Verdejo, and Verdelho. Wines from many of these grapes were being poured by enthusiastic vintners at Sunday’s Grand Tasting. Following is the official list of all Iberian grapes recognized by TAPAS:
Albariño, Albillo, Arinto, Alvarelhão/Brancellao, Bastardo (Trousseau), Bobal, Caiño Blanco, Cariñena/Mazuelo (Carignane), Garnacha (Grenache), Garnacha Blanca, Garnacha Peluda, Garrò, Graciano, Juan Garcia, Loureira, Macabeo (Viura), Malvasia, Mandò, Manto Negra, Mataro/Monastrell (Mourvedre), Mencia, Mission Criolla, Palomino, Prieto Picudo, Rufete, Sousão/Souzão, Tempranillo/Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela/Trincadiera Prieto, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Torrontes, Touriga Franco (Francesca), Touriga Naçional, Treixadura, Verdejo, Verdelho, Xarello
My tasting notes
90, Albariño, Dancing Coyote, 2013, $12
Very light straw in color. This is a full-bodied white, with the viscous feel of glycerol. Conveys notes of white stone fruit with a granitic-mineral character, and a hint of the petrol found in aged Rieslings. Very well balanced, and carries a nicely moderate 13% level of alcohol.
90, Albariño, Kenneth Volk, Riverbench Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, 2014, $20
Pale straw in color with good purity of fruit in this 529-case effort. Invigorating aromas of citrus blossom and freshly cut lemon and lime. Crisp on the palate yielding anise, nectarine, and a classic mineral character.
90, Albariño, Verdad, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, Edna Valley, 2012, $24
Gold accented white-gold in color. Aromas of citrus blossoms and oranges in this 380-case production white wine. On the palate, mineral-framed lemon, gooseberries, and stone fruit. The level of acidity provides good freshness, and the ripe fruit shows good purity.
90, Graciano, Bokisch Vineyards, Terra Alta & Las Cerezas Vineyards, 2012, $22
Bokisch began producing this wine in 2001 as the first single varietal Graciano in the United States. An ancient variety, supposedly predating the Romans in Spain, sadly little remains due to low vineyard yields. Very dark purple in color, displays pungent aromas of blackberry muffins and herb garden, with an intense flavor profile of black plums and blackberries. Rich fruit and a smooth texture grace this mid-weight, harmonious wine, the acid level is requisite, and the finish expressive.
91, Mourvedre, Callaghan Vineyards, Sonoita, 2013, $31
What a revelation in the range of delicious expressions of Mourvedre! The nose and palate are assailed by faintly tart, freshly cut plum, sweet prune, dark raisin, and candied orange peel with a touch of clove and cinnamon-stick. Deep black-purple in color, medium-full bodied, this extravagant, aromatic wine delivers a light texture, rich fruit, requisite intensity, and a complex flavor profile. A tremendous and unique effort from Callaghan in Elgin, Arizona!
89, Torrontes, Kenneth Volk, Silvaspoons Vineyards, 2012, $23
Yields aromas of gardenia, sliced peach, very ripe grapes, a hint of petrol which usually comes in older Rieslings, and flavors of melon and white nectarine. The grapes from this 416-case offering comes from the Silvaspoons Vineyards, noted for numerous plantings of uncommon varieties. Fairly light-weight and bright with a gentle elegance.
90, Verdejo, Berryessa Gap, Yolo County, 2012, $20
This pale gold wine has quite well-defined aromas of citrus and melon. Good flavor profile of white grapes and melon. Demonstrates strength in its characteristics and a long finish.
90, Verdelho, Kenneth Volk, Pomar Junction Vineyard, Paso Robles, 2012, $22
Light-lemon color and medium in weight. Focused aromas of melon with crisp mineral notes. Supple in feel and complex on the palate with creamy fruit, guava, and nuts. The pH of 3.25 delivers brightness and lift.