The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2011

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LONE STAR LIFE Texas Tempranillo T THINK OF IT AS PINOT NOIR WITH A SET OF LONGHORNS by Anthony Head / photos by Kirk Weddle here are wines produced in Texas that I believe are actually worth visiting the state for. I would place several Malbecs high on that list, as I would some Sangioveses. But I’ve fallen for Texas Tempranillo more than those oth- ers, and I still remember tasting the 2004 Inwood Estates Tempranillo-Cabernet several years ago—the impression it made on me has never left. Tempranillo made a lasting impression on Dan Gatlin, too. Back in the 1980s, when he was trying to find the right varietals for his vineyard operations, he noticed similarities between the West Texas soils and those of northern Spain, which is why he planted Spanish Tempranillo. And just like the pride of the Rioja, his Texas fruit demonstrated great range and sophistica- tion. The flavor and structure of the wines showed flexibility, while always spotlighting the naturally fruity nature of the varietal. They were supple, and they took well to mellowing with French-oak aging, too. Today, some of Inwood’s very best vintages bear a striking Dan Gatlin in his barrel room. resemblance to Pinot Noir. “Tempranillo and Pinot are very similar in character,” says Gatlin when I catch up with him at his Hill Country tasting room in Florence. “But our Tempranillos are earthier than any California or Washington Pinot. There’s backbone. I do not want to make thin, chalky wine.” Indeed, Gatlin’s Tempranillos come alive in the glass. When I tried the ‘07 Temp-Cab, the cuvée was still the gutsy, earthy spectacle that I remembered from years ago: medium-bodied with plenty of leather, cigar box and cherry, and as versatile as Pinot Noir when paired with food. Such lively wine as this would complement a huge swath of bold Texas cuisine. Inwood’s 2008 100-percent Tempranillo, Cornelius, shows off how the varietal’s character gets decidedly blacker as it gains structure. The wine is dense with tannins, but they’re not overly assertive. This bottle will find its sweet spot in eight to ten years; drinking it anytime before will still result in wine with the strength of a longhorn bull and the elegance of a china shop. Plus, Gatlin’s got “artisan-grade” Tempranillos in barrels awaiting release that could set a new standard for American Tempranillo. “Tempranillo isn’t the only high spot on the horizon for Texas wines, but I think it’s one of the most marketable. It is one of the most prolific grapes in the world,” says Gatlin. Unfortunately, it remains only at boutique levels of produc- tion here. It’s hard enough for us locals to keep a stock of it around. Plus, I understand that those of you out of state already have to try really hard to find Texas wines in your shops and restaurants. This is why sometimes it’s just easier to visit the Lone Star State in order to taste what’s really exciting in American wine. So, when should we expect to see you? 92 / the tasting panel / may 201 1

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