When Cabernet seems too predictable, or Merlot too passé, or Pinot too flowery, or Zinfandel just too much—there’s Tempranillo. What, pray tell, is Tempranillo? It’s Spain’s noblest grape that makes for a richly flavorful, wonderfully versatile and brilliantly complex red wine—not predictable whatsoever, never passé, flowery only on occasion and hardly ever too much. Tempranillo is hard to pin down—its range of expression is rather vast, and that’s what makes it so special. It can have so-called “feminine” qualities, such as silkiness, voluptuousness or aromatic sexiness. The 2012 Urban Legend Tempranillo, while robust in black and red cherry and raspberry flavor, leans towards the “masculine” in character, with its notes of black pepper, tobacco leaf and spices such as paprika and red pepper, as well as having an undercurrent of dark cocoa. Does the fact that this Spanish-origin wine is made in Oakland, California, have anything to do with that?
Urban Legend’s winemaking facility is located in the industrial downtown Oakland “Urban Wine Trail.” Pretty is not a word to describe this bustling wine “region”—a series of converted industrial warehouses along a concrete jungle that stretches many, many blocks. But hip and cool and post-modern it is, and that’s what makes it so special. The Tempranillo grapes come in from Clarksburg, California, an up-and-coming winegrowing region near the state capitol of Sacramento that also happens to be trending. The art of the winemakers (the married-couple team of Marilee and Steve Shaffer) shows in the wine’s supple texture, round and soft on the palate but turning dark-toned with savory tannins towards the finish—reminding you of this Tempranillo’s ethnicity, a Spanish brand of masculinity. Pair with, of course, Spanish/Latin/Mexican fare, especially anything rubbed with adobo, chipotle, cumin or saffron.
Winemaking is in an “art nouveau” revolution phase taking place in hitherto hidden corners of California, and this Urban Legend represents, at its best, the appetite for risk-taking in the current ethos. No risk, no reward, as they say. –J.M.
Great Wine: Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc