Oregon tempranillo has its own party

January is the month of the Oregon Tempranillo Celebration, an annual affair organized by Southern Oregon growers to promote a Spanish grape that does particularly well in our region but also thrives throughout the state.

Local wine lovers may recall last year’s bash at the Ashland Hills Hotel that culminated in a Sunday tasting open to the public. It turned out to be so popular the supply of tickets couldn’t keep up with demand. Those looking forward to the late January event to take the edge off holiday withdrawal may be disappointed to learn that this year it’s being held at the Double Tree by Hilton in Portland.

Eric Weisinger, winemaker/owner of Weisinger Family Winery and president of the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance, says the Portland venue will reach more consumers and wine enthusiasts, adding, “Tempranillo is grown and produced in every major wine region in the state, from the Rogue Valley to the Willamette and all the way through the Columbia Gorge. It belongs to all of Oregon, as opposed to an individual region.”

Fortunately the event will return to Ashland in 2019 and alternate between north and south going forward.

In case tempranillo is unfamiliar territory, here’s the short course on the grape. Tempranillo refers to a wine grape and its red wine varietal produced principally in the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions of Spain. Tempranillo has the fourth-largest planted acreage among wine grapes worldwide. From 2000 to 2010, tempranillo acreage expanded faster than any other variety.

The grape was introduced into California in the late 19th century. Earl Jones, founder of Abacela Winery in the Umpqua Valley, pioneered tempranillo production in Oregon, planting his original four-acre vineyard in 1995. By 2014, there were 57 tempranillo producers in Oregon, with 344 acres producing a harvest of 839 tons and an economic impact of $9 million.

At the 15th annual Oregon Wine Experience held last August in Jacksonville, the top wine out of all reds entered in the statewide competition was a 2014 Rogue Valley tempranillo made by Weisinger.

No wonder Oregon tempranillo gets its own annual fête.

If you want to join in the celebration without traveling to the other end of the state, Ostras! on the Plaza in Ashland has everything you need: an array of tempranillos from Southern Oregon and Spain, some choice Spanish whites such as albariño and verdejo, and substantial tapas, dishes made to pair with Spanish varietals and to share with everyone at your table.

When I visited, Ostras!, wine guru Andy Phillips had three tempranillos available to taste side-by-side. I tried a fabulous 12-year-old Ontañón Rioja Reserva and two 2015 vintages, a Protos Ribera del Duero and Weisinger Estate Tempranillo that will be released to the public by early February. The ’05 Rioja Reserva won us over with its mellow richness. The younger wines, also excellent, showed more oak. To my palate, the local vintage came across as very similar to the 2015 Spanish wine.

Another feature of Ostras! worth noting: Wines purchased by the bottle to consume on site are offered at bottle-shop pricing, a significant discount compared to restaurant retail — and if it’s a bottle of Rogue Valley wine, there’s no corkage fee. That alone is worth a celebration in my book.

— What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at mjdaspitwinot@gmail.com. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.

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