David 5 November 2015
Think of Spanish red wine and my guess is you’ll think Tempranillo. This indigenous variety is the most planted red grape in Spain, where it’s found under a multitude of names in just about every red-growing region.
Temprana means ‘early’ in Spanish and Tempranillo is an early ripener, its short growing cycle well suited to the often harsh daytime heat found in many Spanish wine regions.
Tempranillo grapes are thick skinned and “capable of making deep coloured, long lasting wine,” Oxford Companion to Wine. I like this description from Melbourne based Spanish wine expert Scott Wasley; “when grown well Tempranillo produces delicious pithy black cherry fruit, with ripe but usually gentle earthy tannins… has a meaty-earthy aspect, and usually some ripe dark spices.”
The two regions most famous for Tempranillo are Rioja and Ribera del Duero. But I want to show you a wine by Alejandro Fernández, known in Spain as “Rey del Tempranillo” (the king of Tempranillo) which comes from outside these regions.
Alejandro Fernández is a legend in the Spanish wine industry and his story is nothing short of amazing. In his own words ‘a peasant from a tiny village,’ Fernández left school at the age of 13 to become the family breadwinner. He held various odd jobs as a carpenter and mechanic, with wine then just a hobby. In 1972, aged 39 and with no formal training, he started Tinto Pesquera, naming it after the local village. At the time, the majority of wines from Ribera del Duero were a lighter style and made as blends. Fernández wanted to make a concentrated red and went for 100% Tempranillo. He used a combination of traditional and modern winemaking techniques and aged the wine in oak. The resulting wines were lush and powerful, and being full-bodied and fruit-driven in style, they were unlike anything else at the time. The wines received critical acclaim and Pesquera shot to international fame. In the 1980s Robert Parker called Pesquera the ‘Petrus of Spain’ and renowned magazine Wine Spectator ran a feature story on Fernández. Tempranillo in Spain never looked back.
Incredibly, Fernández went on to establish 3 more bodegas (wineries): Condado deHaza(1989), then Dehesa la Granja (1998) and lastly El Vínculo (1999). All have been hugely successful and Fernández now controls an internationally recognised winemaking empire. Incredible.
After Fernández had so successfully established his first two estates, he decided to look outside his beloved Ribera del Duero for his third. And he found the perfect spot in a place you’ve never heard of, in the province of Zamora.
Dehesa la Granja
In 1998 Alejandro Fernández and his wife Esperanza Rivera acquired one of Spain’s grandest agricultural properties, the historic, but at the time run down “La Granja” estate. The 1900 acre property is located on the Guareña River in the Zamora province. This little known appellation is one of Spain’s earliest-recognized wine regions and sits at around 700 metres elevation, a factor that tempers the otherwise unbearable summer heat. It’s wild and remote by Spanish standards; the nearest town boasts 300 inhabitants and it’s 200km south east to Madrid.
When purchased, the estate had been used for breeding prize fighting bulls, but for centuries prior it ran a range of agricultural enterprises, including the production of wine. It also possessed a magnificent 3,000 square metre cellar, carved from the bedrock by hand over 17 years in the mid 18th century.
Fernández extensively renovated the estate, returning part of it to its viticultural origins. A modern winemaking facility was built directly over the vast cellars and 325 acres of old-clone Tempranillo, sourced from the Tinto Pesquera estate in the Ribera del Duero, were planted by late 2000. There was also a small plot of old-vine Tempranillo still in existence from the original estate. As well as wine, the property now produces olive oil, cheese and chickpeas.
The Dehesa La Granja estate produces just two wines, both red. A standard ‘Tinto’ and a reserve wine known as ‘Selección Fernández Rivera,’ which is only released in good years.
“Unlike the style of many of Spain’s flashy, high-octane alta expresión Tempranillo wines that proliferated in Pesquera’s slipstream, Dehesa La Granja’s offerings are resolutely old-school; deep and lush with creamy textures and oak influence, yet with firm acidity, plenty of powdery structure and lots of complexity.” Bibendum Wine Co.
A feature that sets the Dehesa wines apart is the incredible length of time they spend aging in the estate’s vast cellars. Unbelievably, the current release of the Tinto is 2007 and the Selección is 2002.
It’s interesting to note that even though both wines qualify as Gran Reserva, they’re not labelled as such. To do so would mean having to include the Zamora DO (appellation) on the label and Fernández considers the region’s reputation for bulk wine so poor that he wants no association with it. He instead labels them simply as ‘Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León,’ - a generic table wine designation.
Delicious mature wines of this quality and price are becoming increasingly rare. My preference is for the Tinto, which at $20 less than the Selección, is a bonus.
1. Dehesa la Granja Tinto 2007
This wine is made from 100% ungrafted, old-clone Tempranillo and was aged for 24 months in barrel, before spending several years maturing in bottle in the estate’s vast 18th century cellars.
It’s amazing that at 8 years of age this wine still offers such bright and powerful primary Tempranillo fruit. But it’s also acquired the deep, warm, secondary flavours that come with age and this combination will totally hook you. You could only speculate how brutish this wine must have been as a youngster, but fortunately Señor Fernández has the patience to give it time to settle down. Still with plenty of structure from its rustic tannins, you’ll find this wine brimming with energy, richness and complexity.
"Brilliant ruby. Smoke-and-spice-accented aromas of redcurrant and cherry, with a hint of vanilla in the background. Juicy and focused on the palate, offering lively red fruit flavours that become sweeter with air. Closes on a smoky note, with slow-building tannins and lingering coconut and spicecake nuances." 90 points, Josh Raynolds in Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, Sep/Oct 13.
“Suffice to say this is entering peak drinking. It's succulently ripe, fleshy and bright, barely showing its age with black cherry, vanilla, cola and dark chocolate aromas and flavours, fine, powdery structure and a fresh, spicy, sage noted finish. The best of the old school and a bargain to boot.” Bibendum Wine Co, 2015.
Where can you find a Tempranillo (or any red for that matter) from such a renowned producer, with this age and guaranteed provenance, drinking so well at this price? I think ‘sweet spot’ is the phrase I’m looking for.
You’ll find it at Movida Sydney for $78 a bottle.
I can offer it for $35 a bottle. SOLD OUT