Thursday, January 27, 2022

Tempting Tempranillo


     vineyard - tempranillo spain stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images 

The vineyard in the photo above is one of many throughout Spain growing old-vine Tempranillo.  While yields from these gnarled bush vines are predictably low, the grapes the vines produce are deeply colored with concentrated tempting flavors.

Tempranillo is the work horse red of Spanish wine. Planted in Rioja, Toro, Ribera del Duero and other regions, the popular grape is responsible for a variety of styles, from youthful grapy-raspberry, to structured age-worthy, richly textured wines with spice notes. 

Although fans of complex red wines can find a style they like, Tempranillo lovers know that the best examples come from Rioja and along the Duero river in Ribera del Duero. 

Rioja Alavesa wines are delicate and aromatic, while those from Rioja Alta are richer and darker. The lesser wines of the hotter Rioja Baja tend to be jammy. 

Even with the dominance of Tempranillo in Rioja, many of the wines are blends of Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo. Blending creates a unique style, but it also deminishes the presence of a terroir in the wine. 

Ribera de Duero Tempranillos are bigger wines with more concentrated flavors. Tempranillo makes up about 85% of the vineyards in the Ribera and the wines must be a minimum of 75% Tinto Fino ( the local name for Tempranillo).  

Chalk, a porous sedimentary limestone, is a vital component of Tempranillo vineyards.  Chalky clays predominate in Rioja and Ribera and are part of the alluvial mixture in Toro.  Some vineyards in Ribera del Duero are so rich in surface chalk, they appear covered in snow.  

Chalk white against sky blue

After 20 years, a grapevine begins to lose its vigor, producing smaller crops. But grapevines are long-lived, some reaching 100 years and still producing grapes.  Spanish Tempranillo vines are often grown as bush or "goblet" trained vines and exceed 35 years. 

Aside: When it comes to wine grape vines, the question is how old is old?  The controversy has been kicking around for years, especially in California.  Some say a vine should be 25-35 years old before you tag it as an "old vine."   But most vines are only getting started at that age, so maybe it should be 50-75 years old?  

The bottom line is that wine marketers like the old vine designation, so it doesn't matter to them if it sells wine. Grape growers, however, are more inclined toward a statement of maturity.  As someone of age, I tend to side with growers.

Tempranillo is a natural with oak.  American oak has been used in Rioja, where Tempranillo is the major red grape, since the late 19th century.  Tempranillo's mellow fruit melds nicely with the subtle vanilla notes drawn from American oak. Due to the long aging in old barrels, Rioja needs little to no bottle aging, especially for joven and crianza. 

Joven wines are unoaked, although some wineries wood-age them for less than six months.  To distinguish between oak or no oak, some wineries add "roble" (oak) on the labels to denote that the wine has spent some time in oak.

By law, Crianza must age a minimum of 24 months, with at least six months in oak. In practice, though, Rioja and Ribera del Deuro require a full year minimum in oak and many wineries keep their wines in barrel longer.

Old barrels are still mostly used in Rioja, the wine getting subtle oak seasonings from long aging periods.  However, the trend, first started in Ribera del Duero, leans to more fruit and less oak, as well as the introduction of French oak.  

Before the era of knowledge sharing, growers had local names for the same grape, a practice that remains today.  Thus, in Ribera del Duero Tempranillo is known as Tinto Fino, in Valdepenas it is called Censibel, Ull de Libre in Catalonia and Tinto de Toro in Toro.  In neighboring Portugal, Tempranillo is called Tinta Roriz or Tinta Aragonez.  Fortunately, the grape naming remains local and doesn't appear on labels. 

There are a lot of Spanish wines in the market today and not all of them are available in all markets.  It's always best to consult your local wine merchant, but to help you along, here are a few popular Spanish Tempranillos.

Rioja: Marques de Riscal, Campo Viejo, Martinez Bujanda, CVNE, Muga, Lopez de Heredia. 

Ribera del Duero: Alejandro Fernandez, Protos, Condado de Haza, Vega Sicilia, Hacienda Monasterio, Arzuaga.

Others: Civite and Guelbenzu (Navarra) and Marques de Grinon (Castilla-La-Mancha).

Tempranillo is a tempting wine of many styles and character and best of all, there is a Tempranillo to go with the food of your choice. 


Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 25

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Thursday, January 20, 2022

2121 Recap

 Business woman hand writing on a notepad with a pen and using laptop in the office. Web banner stock photo

Every year at about this time, columnists and contributing writers like to look back at the past year and recall major events, or what they liked and disliked on the world scene.  "Best" and "Worse" lists abound, often including things readers had completely forgotten. 

Wine articles and blogs are no different.  This blog, however, will not bore you with yet another screed about the hated three-tier system, the stupidity of some state laws regarding direct shipping of wine or whether some of the nation's sommeliers are misbehaving.

What follows, then, is a look back at the topics covered in "Gerald D Boyd On Wine" in 2021.  They are offered here as an indexed guide of what you read (or missed) throughout the past year; topics that will help increase and improve your knowledge of wine, while giving you more power to make better wine purchases. 

By my count, this space carried 31 blogs plus 14 "My Life in Wine" entries in 2021, which doesn't come to 52 weeks, but then a few things happened, like illness and an unrelanting pandemic. 

To make it easy for you, the reader, the blogs are grouped alphabetical by country, with a separate section for "My Life in Wine."

Australia: Australian Shiraz (18 Nov 2021). I thought I had written more than just one blog on this popular red last year.  Look for more background on Australian wine in the coming year.

California: Sierra Foothills (8 July), Napa Valley (19 Aug), Beyond Napa (26 Aug). Yikes!  Only three blogs on the most popular U.S. wines; I'll have to do better in 2022, with more on lesser known California wines.

Chile: Wine from this narrow country in South America continues to appeal to American wine drinkers.  An overview of Chilean wines is in the (23 Dec) blog.  In 2022, I'll write about the appeal of Chilean red wine.

France: Loire wines Part 1 (30 Jan), Loire wines Part 2 (9 Feb), Chablis (29 Apr), wines of the Cote de Beaune (6 May), Champagne (29 Jul), Cabernet Franc (5 Aug), Viognier (9 Sep), Grenache (16 Sep), wines from south of Beaune, (11 Nov).  Clearly, I had a preference for French wines in 2021.  This blog focused on French wines more than any other region or country.  Alsace and the affordable wines of southwest France will be featured later this year.

Israel: There is more to Israeli wines than kosher, as presented in a (7 Oct)  update.

Italy: Nebbiolo (10 Jan), Pinot Grigio & Pinot Bianco (8 Apr), Barbera & Dolcetto (15 Apr), Soave (21 May), Sicily (15 Jul).  I admit, Italian wines are favorites for their variety and overal high quality, so there will be more on Italian wine in 2022.

Miscellaneous: Covid Watch (24 Feb), "How did you get into wine?" (1 Apr), Summer Roses (24 Jun), The impact of climate change in the vineyard (30 Sep), "When did wine change?" (28 Oct), Light Reds (2 Dec), Holiday Wine (9 Dec).

Oregon: Oregon Red Wine (21 Oct).  There is more going on with wine in Oregon than I wrote about last year, so look for more Oregon coverage.

Portugal: Portuguese Reds (6 Mar), Madeira (25 Mar).  I could write volumes about Portugal, its wines and its people and will do so (although not volumes) in 2022.

MLIW: The remaining 14 blogs in 2021, Episode 10 thru Episode 23, were entitled "My Life in Wine," a running account of my experiences with wine, as a writer, wine judge and wine teacher.  

In Episode 10, while still in Colorado, I got an offer to join the Wine Spectator; and then my experiences as a writer and editor at the Spectator continued through Episode 16, when I resigned and returned to free lance wine writing.  

The ups and downs of free lancing, including contributing to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and my exposure to electronic writing for Wine Review Online, plus a moment in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake emptied my wine rack, are all in Episodes 17 to 21.

Episode 22 was about Scotland's "wine" and the year ended with an account of wine judging in Australia. 

Life is busy today and sometimes you need a little help with the answer to such questions as what wine to buy?  The above index of 2021 blogs on "Gerald D Boyd on Wine" provides a guide to some of the many wines available today and 2022 promises to include many of the wines not covered last year. 

There is so much more to write about...and I'd like to hear from you what wines or wine regions you'd enjoy reading about.  Use the Comments option below or email me at


Next blog: Tempting Tempranillo

Thursday, January 13, 2022

My Life in Wine Episode 24

In Episode 23, The U.S Air Force had decided to temporarily transfer me from the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian chain, where wine options were limited, to another tropical island, where wine didn't exist. I made due with lots of cold beer.  Then, I retired from the Air Force and got into wine, where I applied my tasting acumen at a major wine show in Australia and later, learned how to spit from an expert.  

This is an abbreviated story of a winemaker in training, who was bored with odd jobs, signed on as a winegrape harvest intern in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, discovered he liked wine production and eventually settled in Washington state as the winemaker and owner of his own winery.   

The making of a winemaker tells how one person endured the rigors of winery cellar work, being the new guy and an outsider.  It's not my story, although I started the story as the facilitator and later as an observer, in what became the latest episode of "My Life in Wine."

With three sons, you would think that at least one of them would follow in the old man's footsteps.  Admittedly, my footsteps - Air Force and wine - didn't make it easy for them. 

But then my oldest son, Kevin, entered the Air Force and the succession began to look promising.  Until, that is, when Kevin's brother, Mark, strayed from the path and joined the Navy.  At least the Boyd's were building a military tradition. 

A few years past and in 1991, Kevin and Mark's younger brother, Sean, said to his mother and me: "Dad, do you remember telling me about working a wine vintage somewhere?"  Janet looked puzzled, not sure it was Sean she heard, while I stalled for time, rummaging through my memory and not wanting to blow this opportunity to see Sean have a wine adventure. 


"Yeah, I did mention a contact who told me that Penfolds in Australia, had a couple of intern positions open every vintage.  Are you interested in checking it out?" 

The move began to take shape and once the internship was confirmed at Penfolds, Sean showed us the air ticket on Qantas, he bought, with a stop in Fiji.  "Fiji!" I yelled.  Here was a guy we couldn't hardly pry out of his room and now he's going to Fiji for a few days on the way to work in Australia.

A brief pause here to explain what motivates a person to become a winemaker. You either have a love or develop a love for making wine or for selling wine.   Some people are born into the family business, others discover wine while working in another field and some arrive at wine making after laboring in winery cellars.  Sean happened into winemaking by way of the latter path.

Things began to fall into place as we were with Sean and some of his friends at departures in San Francisco International.  Sean was nervously pacing back and forth, when suddenly, he said his goodbyes and passed through security.  Patience be dammed, there were places to go and people to see, so it was time to get on with this new adventure.

The next we heard from Sean, he was in Nuriootpa, South Australia working at Penfolds main winery, pulling hoses and cleaning tanks and barrels, on the midnight shift. 

At the end of a shift, his cellar mates wanted to knock back a few beers, but Sean was ready for sleep.  On the way to the room he was renting from a young couple, Sean stopped to pick up some photos from his vacation in Fiji. Back in the room he began sorting through the stack of snapshots, when he stopped short. There was a snap of Sean lying on the beach asleep, with his head resting on his day bag.  

"How could that be?" Sean thought.  Later, he decided that his camera had slipped out of the top of the day bag and someone walking by picked up the camera, took a photo of a sleeping Sean, then returned the camera with Sean none the wiser. 

Harvest was coming to an end and the three months experience at Penfolds was enough to hook Sean on winemaking as a way to make a living.  He had also been bitten by the travel bug, so he roamed around Australia and then New Zealand, finally returning to California.  Two years later, Sean was off to Spain and a harvest job at Torres, in the Catalan region.

Between harvests, looking to round out his knowledge of wine, Sean worked at retail sales at BevMo and Plump Jack in San Francisco.  Selling wine provided him with insight about people's wine likes and dislikes, but making wine was his main interest, so in 1994, Sean returned to Australia for harvest at Rosemount in the Hunter Valley. 

Then, it was back to California, but he soon grew restless, so in 1995 with bags  re-packed, Sean was off to Portugal and a harvest job at Ramos Pinto's Quinta Bom Retiro in the Douro Valley and a position testing wine samples in Ramos Pinto's laboratory in Vila Nova de Gaia.  From there, it was back to Australia and another harvest job, this time at McGuigan Wines, in the Hunter Valley.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to see new places, and knowing that harvest in cooler New Zealand was usually a few weeks behind Australia, Sean left the Hunter Valley for Morton Estate in Marlborough.

Seattle and Mt. Raineer

Finally, back in California, Sean applied for cellar work at various wineries in Sonoma County, but nothing was open, so he moved to Seattle, worked in wine retail, then assistant winemaker at the former Woodinville Wine Cellars and eventually, he and his wife opened Sightglass Cellars in Woodinville. 

There is a saying in the wine industry that university classes form a good foundation, but you don't learn how to make wine until you get to the winery.  In the classroom you learn the chemistry, the science of wine, but the cellar is where you learn how to apply that science.  Sean's path to winemaker was OJT "On the Job Training" and it has served him well.

Next blog: Recapping 2021 Blogs

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Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Emotional Stirrings of Wine & Music


                      Music, Notes, Symbols, Compose, Composition, Tunes

When Americans first "discovered" wine in the 1970s, some enterprising dreamers imagined that certain classical musical compositions had a symbiotic relationship with a type of wine: red Burgundy with a romantic Tchaikovsky symphony, or a Rhine Riesling with Wagner's Tristan and Isolde.

The pairings were viewed by some as highly subjective and fanciful.  In many cases, the only positive thing to come from one of the marriages was good wine and great music, shared with friends. 

Trends come and go, but I wonder is there a connection between wine and music, something tangible, even practical?  A possible answer (well, at least a theory) occurred to me recently while listening to one of the lectures in The Great Courses on "The Concerto."

Professor Robert Greenberg, music historian-in-residence with San Francisco Performances, was moving from one composer to another, then as he entered the 20th Century, Greenberg offered an energetic support for the "modern music" of Bela Bartok, Arnold Schonberg, Alban Berg, Elliott Carter and others.  

According to Greenberg, this is "music of contrast and contest, not the classical form of clear lines and balanced form."  And, I might add, the music is based on 12-tone scales, a revolutionary approach to music composition that you either find appealing or boring. 

Such is the association of wine and the practices used to make it.  Chardonnay, with or without oak?  Zinfandel, American oak or French oak? Champagne, fresh and vital or aged and caramelized?

Wine and music are both experiences that stimulate the senses.  Music appeals to our sense of hearing and the relationship that it has with listeners emotions.  Wine is a more synergistic blending of taste and emotions.  At the base level, both wine and music stir the emotions.  

A while back, "Wine Enthusiast" magazine ran an article about wine and music, suggesting Bordeaux is best with classical music, Oregon Pinot Noir with jazz and country music rolls along nicely with a glass of Zinfandel.

                                     Yin Yang, Karma, Music, Words, Speaks, Buddhism, Yang

As a classical music listener, I was checking the play list of WFMT Chicago and noticed an article quoting Enrique Mazzola, music director of Lyric Opera of Chicago and an ambassador of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a Tuscan red made  from Sangiovese.  Mazzola offered three wine and music matches and his personal comments:

Music: "Finch'han dal vino," from Wolfgang Mozart's "Don Giovanni."  Wine: Vino Nobile di Montepulcino. "Don Giovanni sings this crazy aria in a very fast tempo, which represents the excitement of sipping a good Vino Mobile di Montepulciano."

Music:  Allegro from Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major.  Wine: Eichberg Grand Cru Alsace Riesling.  "When you listen to this music, you have a stream of notes that introduces one to a simple and refreshing melody that makes you smile, just like a Riesling."

Music: "Un bal" from Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique."  Wine: Saint-Emilion, a Bordeaux red wine based on Merlot.  Mazzola says "The opening of the third movement becomes more exciting, just like when you drink your glass of Saint-Emilion."

While the maestro's comments may be more emotional than descriptive, there is an underlying encouragement for the listener and taster to suss out their own conclusions.  It's an easy and pleasureable exercise and the possibilities are unlimited. 

After trying a few exercises, my curiosity was still stimulated, so I did what anyone else nowadays would do, I asked Charlie Google about wine and music.  What I found was not only surprising for the number of items there are on the subject, but also the deep dive that some folks have taken, exploring the depths of the subject.  Here is just one of the more comprehensive and serious theories I found. 

In 2013, Clark Smith, California winemaker, chemist and wine industry shaker, published "Postmodern Winemaking," an intriguing book that takes a serious whack at "traditional" wine making, while laying out Smith's "new vision of the winemaker's craft."  

"Postmodern" is not a how-to book but rather a series of essays based on Smith's experiences as a wine maker and industry observer.  Browsing through the internet, I found an interview with Smith by Drew Hendricks on his "Legends Behind he Craft" blog, about Smith's theory on wine and music. 

During the interview, Smith mentions "Liquid Music," in the last chapter of "Postmodern," that delves into the depths of the relationship between music and wine.  I dug Smith's book out of my library and read the chapter. 

Smith recounts a discussion he had with Don Blackburn, founding winemaker for Bernardus in California's Carmel Valley and a man who is serious about the affect music has on wine.  He maintains that wine's attributes are "innately subjective...  but modern enology has held back the lack of interest in exploring the subjectivity."

My experience with Blackburn was during a visit to Bernardus. Besides liking Blackburn's wines, the subtext of my conversation with him is that "Blackburn's Rule" meant no other music but classical in the winery. 


At the end of my visit to Bernardus, I pulled a cellar worker aside and asked him about Blackburn's prohibition. Without hesitation, he said that the first thing the crew did when Blackburn left was to change the music to rock and crank up the volume. 

If you decide that the whole wine and music thing is a lot of precious bunk, so be it, but look at all the great music and wine you enjoyed during the research.

End Note:  I'd like to hear from readers, if you think there is a link between wine and music (any music, not just classical) and if so, what are your favorite pairings.  If I get enough, it will be the subject of a future blog.

Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 24

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