Spanish Reds

According to wine authority Jancis Robinson, Tempranillo is Spain's answer to Cabernet Sauvignon, putting the spine in that country's most notable reds. But unlike Cabernet, Tempranillo has not found its way into many vineyards around the world (though a tiny bit is planted here in Idaho). In Spain's best-known wine region, Rioja, it is typically blended with Garnacha, which contributes the rich aromas that Tempranillo often lacks. An early ripening variety, it also thrives in the cooler climate of the Ribera del Duero. We tasted a number of wines from across Spain, the top three picks representing an interesting range of styles.

2002 Luis Alegre Rioja Crianza, $12.99

A richly aromatic wine with bright cherry and berry, cedar, oak, leather, smoke, anise and herbs. It's a bit more reserved on the palate, slowly opening up to reveal a well-balanced wine with blackberry and tart cherry fruit. Ripe tannins lightly coat the mouth on the long, long finish. Though approachable now, this wine would definitely benefit from a year or two in the bottle.

1998 Montecillo Rioja Reserva, $17.99

Reservas spend at least a year in oak and two years in the bottle before they are released, becoming more mellow with age. The Montecillo is a remarkably smooth and supple wine with a velvety texture in the mouth. Though made entirely of Tempranillo, the aromas reveal more than one might expect, with lovely red currant, berry, plum and a nice bit of sweet licorice. This is an elegant wine with a silky finish.

2003 Venta Mazzaron Tempranillo, $12.99

From the tiny region of Zamorra, just west of the Ribera del Duero, the Mazzaron is another 100 percent Tempranillo wine. The aromas are slightly reserved with light oak, smoke and vanilla backing soft berry fruit. Richer in the mouth, it offers ripe berry and dark chocolate flavors, along with hints of herb and mushroom. The Mazzaron is a wine with good length and an acid balance that begs to be paired with food.

This week's panel: Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant; Steve Thies, Tastevin.

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