Food & Drink

Tempranillo: Well-liked, but not well-known

As far as history goes, the Pacific Northwest has little in the way of growing tempranillo, the noble red grape of Spain’s Rioja region. But our region’s grape growers and winemakers are quick learners.

The Northwest’s first tempranillo grapes went into the soil in 1993, when Red Willow Vineyard’s Mike Sauer planted a few test vines in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Just a couple of years later, Earl and Hilda Jones of Abacela began planting tempranillo in earnest in Southern Oregon’s warm Umpqua Valley.

In the two decades since, tempranillo has established itself as a favorite with growers, winemakers and consumers alike. We recently conducted a tempranillo judging on behalf of Wine Press Northwest magazine and expected perhaps 40 examples of the wine to show up from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Instead, we drew 72.

Most of the production of Northwest tempranillo is in small amounts. The average case production of the wines tasted was below 250. This means most of the wines are sold directly to consumers through the wineries’ tasting rooms or wine clubs, while a small amount likely is making it to wine shops.

Here are a few of the top wines from our comprehensive tempranillo judging. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly. And find the complete results in the latest issue of Wine Press Northwest or at