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Grape of the Week:
Tempranillo (Rioja)

Hello, is it hot enough for you?

Ha ha! Summer is definitely here, and we have seen a big uptick in traffic at the store. People have been coming in and buying all kinds of wines for the concerts in the park, on the beach and for their weekend parties on their boats, seaside houses and vacation homes in the local mountains.

Of course, my light white wines—Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc—and several different styles of Rosés have been flying off the shelves as fast as we can stock them.

The one question that remains constant is: "What red wine can I serve at my barbecue tonight/this weekend? Cabernet just seems too heavy for this heat."

I get this question several times every day. I'm glad people are willing to look to other reds to pair with their grilled foods.

Thankfully, there are plenty of options available for those consumers. One of my favorite summer grilling wines has always been Tempranillo, also known as Rioja.

Tempranillo is believed to be an ancient grape, possibly brought to southern Spain by the Phoenicians around 800 B.C. It is planted all over the World, but mostly in Spain. According to Spanish Wine laws, there are several levels of Rioja Tempranillo.

The lowest, and not typically found outside of Spain is Vin Joven (young wine), and is meant to be drunk, as the name implies, young, similar to a Beaujolais Nouveau.

More popular are Rioja 'Crianza', which requires two years of aging before release, with six months in oak; and Rioja 'Reserva', which requires three years of aging, one year in oak, before release. And lastly, Gran Reserva, which requires five years of aging, eighteen months of which are in oak.

Tempranillo is a medium body wine. Both its tannin and acid structure are medium in their compositions, making Tempranillo a great red wine for those hot summer days.

Its flavors are similar to Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, with notes of cherry playing the lead. Depending on where it is planted, the flavors can range from bright, juicy cherry, with notes of leather, (Spain), to dried cherries, red plum, tomato sauce, and dill (New World: USA, Argentina and even Mexico). These flavors pair nicely with our summertime grilled favorites.

Go ahead and try one with any grilled or smoked red meat, I prefer to pair mine with slow smoked brisket, but you can pair Tempranillo with anything from grilled red meats, to spaghetti, lasagna, wood fired pizzas, tacos, burritos, paella, polenta. There is almost nothing you can cook as a summer dish, that will not pair with Tempranillo. So please, please try one this summer!

The price range of Tempranillo really depends on the quality level. You can get a young, delicious Tempranillo for about $5 a bottle, or spend a bit more for a richer, slightly more balanced and fuller bodied one for around $18-$25 a bottle. Two of my favorite Tempranillos are the Albardiales Tempranillo for $5 a bottle, and the Volver Tempranillo for $16 a bottle. I like the first with burgers and spaghetti, the second with a nice juicy Rib Eye.

Remember to chill your Tempranillo slightly, about 25-30 minutes in your refrigerator should do the trick (Equal to around 52°F-55°F). Open it first and pour a little in a glass, to get the wine down out of the neck of the bottle and to allow a little more surface area for the air and wine to interact and open up as it's cooling down.

I know most of you are scratching your heads and asking why would you chill a red wine? Truth is, ALL wines are supposed to be chilled to some degree. The heaviest reds, Cabernets, Syrahs, Shiraz, even Barolos and Barbarescos should be served around a cool-ish 55°F-60°F (cellar temperature). This way the esters that carry the aromas can escape the glass as the wine warms up, allowing you to enjoy quaffing the nose of your selected big, bold red.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Grape of the Week. Come back next week as I will be selecting several great wines from the Crûs Bourgeois class of Bordeaux wines to honor Bastille Day and the ongoing Tour de France.