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Meet Tempranillo

Want a budget–priced red wine that’s as versatile with salmon or tuna as it is with cheeses or grilled meats? Wine lovers, meet Tempranillo.

This dominant red grape of Spain has many expressions that range from fruity and juicy to smoky, slightly earthy and luxurious. And, like so may wines coming from Spain right now, Tempranillo can run the gamut but is easily scored for as little as $8–$10.

Two from Bodega Montecillo are easily found and range in price from $13–$18. These are good choices to taste side–by–side since each expresses such different characteristics. Located in the heart of Spain’s Rioja region, the bodega (winery) is one of the area’s oldest wineries. In an industry dominated by male winemakers, Montecillo wines have been crafted by a woman, Maria Martinez, who has more than three decades of wine making experience.

Crianza 2007 is the sweeter little brother of the pair. It’s juicy, with lots of dark berry flavors, a note of vanilla and moderate woodiness. It gets a year–long slumber in French oak and some additional bottle aging – great handling for such an inexpensive wine. It’s an easy stand–alone drinker or will pair well with appetizers like cured hams or sausages, sheep milk cheeses and spicy grilled shrimp.

2003 Reserva languished for 18 months in French oak – which shows predominately in the wine’s spiciness and elegant tannins. My sample seemed to be right on the edge of taking a turn for the worst – I think 2003 is a tad aged for a Spanish table wine. Still its structure and plenty of pleasing traits kept me interested – and impressed a handful of “guest tasters” with whom I shared the bottle.

Tempranillo is a fun wine with which to taunt your palate. If you haven’t tried one, make it your next purchase. Your favorite package store clerk will be happy to point you toward the best sellers.