Why would you plant the Spanish grape, Tempranillo, in Central Otago? Well, why not? It's inland high country with a semi-continental climate and in the summer the days are hot and perfect for ripening grapes. Rioja, on a high continental plateau, is surrounded by mountains that keep the chilly winds away. Sounds a little familiar to Central Otago in a way.
I was intrigued when I heard that Rock Ferry was growing the grape in Bendigo.
"Would I like to try the wine?" they asked.
" Too right," I replied.
I popped it into a tasting with several other varieties, including Pinot Noir. But the Tempranillo was distinctly varietal, and while the colour was like Pinot Noir, and the wine had cherry nuances too, that's where the similarity ended. The Pinots had a deeper, richer, more savoury scent while the Tempranillo, reminded me of the lighter styles from Spain.
Rock Ferry Central Otago Tempranillo 2009 is a deep garnet colour, translucent in appearance. There's a vanillin oak sweetness to the scent, shades of American oak I thought, as typically used in Rioja. But not according to the wine's fact sheet that stated only French oak (30% new) had been used. So where does the vanilla character come from? The grape variety perhaps. Smoky and savoury to the taste with an underlying cherry sweetness and a hint of pepper, the mouthfeel is silky and supple and hints of orange zest infiltrate the succulent finish. A fascinating flavour profile and close to what I expected. The wine has achieved 13% alcohol and the bottle is sealed with a screwcap closure. The winery price is $39 a bottle.
Rock Ferry's Tempranillo grapes are grown at their Trig Hill vineyard in Bendigo, named after a trig station in the middle of the vineyard site. Interestingly they grow Nebbiolo there too.
Tempranillo has been in grown in New Zealand since the early 1990s, and long championed by John Hancock of Trinity Hill wines from his Morton Estate days. But a wine wasn't produced until John made one under his Trinity Hill label in 2002.
This Central Otago wine is almost a polar opposite of the darkly coloured, opulent Trinity Hill versions. But this doesn't matter. I often prefer a lighter bodied red, especially with my food. And the more medium-bodied Rock Ferry is ideal in this respect.
We matched to slow braised lamb shanks that had been cooked with oranges and spices such as cinnamon stick and star anise. The savouriness of the Tempranillo was excellent with the lamb but the little bit of orange coming through in the wine, made it an extra complimentary match.
While Tempranillo is slowly being planted in vineyards around the country, only a few have produced wine so far. To my knowledge, in addition to Rock Ferry and Trinity Hill, the other producers are Black Barn and Hawkes Ridge from Hawkes Bay and Herzog and Yealands Estate (Pete's Shed) from Marlborough.
To find out more about Rock Ferry Tempranillo, click on their website, www.rockferry.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
15 Aug 2011