Searching for the top tempranillo in Spain and Oregon

Alberto Moro said his family wasn’t really interested in making white wine until they fell in love with the godellos made in the Bierzo region of Spain. The great-grandson of Emilio Moro whose name graces the family’s flagship wine, Alberto works besides aunts and uncles to carry on a family business that started in the Ribera del Duero region in the middle of the Spanish Civil War.

We recently shared a virtual tasting with Moro, a third generation whose job is getting the family wine distributed in the United States.  The two Moro reds — the flagship Emilio Moro and the premium Malleolus — are made entirely of tempranillo. Although tempranillo is more commonly associated with Rioja, the wines from there aren’t as complex or as well structured as those from a higher elevation in Ribera del Duero. Moro said his tempranillo grapes are smaller and have thicker skins.

The two reds we tasted were outstanding. The 2017 Bodegas Emilio Moro ($25) was elegant with blackberry notes and a good dose of licorice. The powerful 2017 Malleolus ($40) had more oak notes and gritty tannins.

But it was the white godellos (“go-DAY-ho”) that got our attention. We can see why the family fell in love with the grape.

We are always on the lookout for godellos, but they aren’t easy to find because of a small production. More common in Spain’s Valdeorras region, godello reminds me most of chardonnay but Moro likened it to a cross between albarino and sauvignon blanc. We’ve even seen comparisons to chenin blanc. We’re confident if you like any of these white wines, you’re going to be impressed with godello. Thankfully, we’re now seeing more of it in the United States.

The Bodegas Emilio 4 Moro El Zarzal Godello 2018 ($25), aged in large foudre barrels for eight months, sports fresh peach flavors with good acidity and a bit of mineral and vanilla. The Bodegas Emilio Moro La Revelia 2017 ($40) has a richer mouthfeel but with enough acidity to make this an excellent food match. Smaller French barrels were used to add complexity to the wine.

These are great wines to serve with rich seafood dishes and chicken breast.

Tempranillo in Oregon, too

We’re suckers for a good story. So, it wasn’t hard to get into the history of Earl and Hilda Jones, two scientists-turned-winemakers who launched Abacela Winery in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley in 1995. While most enterprising Oregon winemakers capitalize on pinot noir, the Joneses focused on Spanish varietals after an extensive tour of Spain with their children.

They returned with a commitment to make world-class tempranillo in the United States and searched for an area that had the ideal climate and soil for this grape variety. They found their ideal climate not in the Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley but instead in Roseburg. 

Atop his tractor in the vineyards, Earl Jones said the Umpqua Valley has “more soils than you can imagine,” but the weather is more critical to growing tempranillo.

“You need a short growing season — six to seven months — a cool spring, blistering hot summer and cool, truncated autumn,” he said.

But why tempranillo?

“Our love affair began in San Francisco,” he said. “I was a student and a guy at a deli introduced me to European wines. But as a student, good wines were $4 a bottle. I could buy Rioja for a dollar.”

When he could afford more expensive Rioja, he developed the vision to travel to Spain and return with a plan to grow tempranillo here.

Abacela grows 15 varieties, including perhaps the only U.S. planting of tinta amarela. Other European grape varieties include graciano, dolcetto, albarino tannat and syrah.  

It was the tempranillo that most impressed us the most. Abacela makes four styles that range in price and complexity. The 2017 Fiesta ($25) is your everyday wine, although that shouldn’t take away from its fruit-chocked delivery. The 2015 South East Block Reserve ($49) delivered more complexity and body.  

We also liked the 2016 South Face Reserve Syrah ($44) for its dense, luxurious character. Dark in color with blackberry, raspberry and umami flavors with enticing hints of anise and tobacco. 

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Abacela is one of 30 family-owned wineries in the Umpqua Valley.

We’re not sure other enterprising winemakers will try to keep up with the Joneses, but at least there is something new in Oregon besides another vintage of pinot noir.  

The wines are available through its web site, abacela.com.

Wine picks

  • Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay Napa Valley 2016 ($55). Drawing grapes mostly from Carneros, this balanced chardonnay has pure fruit character, moderate oak flavors, good complexity and tropical fruit notes. Without filtering the chardonnay, Newton is able to retain more flavor and concentration. Although many producers don’t filter their wines, few say so on the label – perhaps because consumers will fear they will be drinking impurities. However, Newton is making a statement of embodying the common practice of Burgundian winemakers.
  • Silverado Los Carneros Estate Chardonnay 2018 ($35). We liked the balanced oak in this delicious chardonnay. Apples aromas are followed by tropical fruit and round, creamy mouthfeel.
  • Two Angels Petite Sirah 2017 ($27). Dense in color, this sturdy petite sirahfrom the Red Hills area of Lake County, CA, has big and ripe blueberry, cherry and plum flavors.
  • Ca’ Bolani Sauvignon Superiore Friuli Aquileia DOC 2018 ($12-15). If your tired of some of the over-expressive sauvignon blancs that explode in your mouth with grapefruit and herbal notes but crave a un-oaked non-chardonnay then this beauty from Friuli is for you. Comes across almost like a pinot grigio on steroids with pleasant fruity citrus notes and a balancing minerality.  Smooth in the mouth from extended lees aging this wine is a pure delight to drink.

Generic photos are selected by ThePhillyFiles and don’t indicate any preference.

Tom Marquardt (email for questions) and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column since 1985. They’ve traveled extensively to vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the U.S.
Tom lives in Florida with his wife, Sue, where he conducts wine tastings. Patrick is in the wine retail business in Annapolis, Md.

Something on your mind? Let everyone know!

%d bloggers like this: