A Tempranillo from Clare Valley heavyweight Taylors Wines proved to be a smash hit
with the Hot 100 Wines judges, finishing runner-up for the 2017/18 season.
So, is it Tem-pra-nee-yo, or do we rhyme it with pillow?
We don’t agree on how to pronounce it, but Tempranillo, the grape behind Spain’s famous red wine region Rioja, is booming in Australia, careering from being virtually unknown and ungrown in the 1990s to having more than 330 current expressions across the country.
Taylors Wines, one of the Clare Valley’s handful of heavyweight producers, was quick to recognise the possibilities of alternative varieties, and put in a vineyard of Tempranillo 16 years ago. The resulting wine made its debut as part of the Taylors Estate range in 2012.
The 2017 version was released just in time to be entered in the latest Hot 100 Wines, where the judges declared themselves seduced by “crushed blueberries on the palate and textural, crunchy acid lines” and promptly made it runner-up in the top 10.
At Taylors, the Tempranillo has been entrusted to Thomas Darmody, the most junior member of the four-strong winemaking team. Darmody, who came to Taylors just over a year ago “straight from uni” (his oenology degree course), says he harbours a strong and growing interest in less traditional varieties.
“I really like alternative varieties, that’s my sort of bag; I really like the weird little things that other people aren’t always so keen on.”
Darmody is working on a Fiano, the tasty white that hails from southern Italy, as part of the Taylors Winemakers’ Project, an initiative that creates a range of more experimental wines sold only at cellar door. He is also making a Pinot Noir, as well as trying his hand at the great red variety of Chile, Carménère, although it doesn’t yet generate a standalone wine.
In Spain, Tempranillo is famously versatile: capable of producing tannic, leathery reds of great longevity, it also lends itself to simpler, more quaffable joven wines. Locally, Darmody says, focus has been almost exclusively on the latter style as a template.
“In Australia it’s always been made a little bit more in that nice juicy, quenching sort of style, with a nice big round mouth-feel.”
While the term estate usually implies a wine is home-grown, the contributing grapes for the Taylors Temp actually come from three different places: Taylors’ vineyards at Auburn and Polish Hill River, and a McLaren Vale grower.
Darmody ferments the three parcels separately — “We try to accentuate the different characteristics in each” — then blends the components together for a brief maturation in old oak barrels. This year’s model has 25 per cent input from Auburn and 35 per cent from Polish Hill River with McLaren Vale providing the remainder, but both proportions and picking times can vary significantly from season to season.
In March 2017, the Auburn fruit was among the first red grapes picked at Taylors, with the Polish Hill River parcel harvested a month later.
“We ended up grabbing the McLaren Vale grapes a little riper to add a little more fruit concentration,” Darmody says.
The wine doesn’t linger in the winery — last year it was bottled and in the shops by August.
In Clare, this year’s Tempranillo crop is looking promising, with veraison – the arrival of colour that signals the start of ripening – still in progress. Darmody will look after the Tempranillo for the forseeable future, and welcomes the opportunities afforded him as a relative newcomer in a large winery.
“Because of the small size of the winemaking team, we’re all looking after one another’s products and ‘babies’. I get to learn so much – if I was working in a small joint, I’d only be focusing on, say, five things: here we have around 65 products I have to have fresh and clear in my mind.”
With a couple of months left until vintage, Darmody anticipates a big year.
“I have a feeling it will be one of the most hectic vintages at Taylors – we’re looking at processing the biggest amount of fruit ever.”
While a future for Tempranillo seems assured, the variety’s pronunciation may remain contested. After all, who says “I’ll have a vaneeya slice, thanks”?