At last . . . in America, growing recognition of breadth and depth in Tempranillo, especially from Rioja, Spain

O happy day! Americans are finally buying Tempranillo, so there’s a lot of it nowadays. If a clerk looks at you kind of funny when you ask for it, you’re in the wrong store. They should hire Judy!

My fearless wife began discovering the world of wine four decades ago as we lived in Italy and then, back in the United States, as I began writing about wine and food. She loves the wineries and winemakers’ dinners that scribes get invited to. And she’s a fine shopper, studying labels and soaking up wisdom from merchants whom she deems actually knowledgable.

So the other night, as I fixed a meal that didn’t want to be overwhelmed with a blockbuster red — but food calling for a gentler yet rich red — I opened one of her finds. I’ll let an especially accurate label tell you what we enjoyed.

  • Fusero 2010 Rioja Tempranillo, Spain

[Quoting the label]: “Bright red color with purple tones, this wine has a persistent, fruity and clean bouquet with hints of strawberries and raspberries. Silky and fruity on the palate, good length and with a pleasant and harmonious finish it is the perfect accompaniment to meat dishes, game, fowl and all kinds of pasta. 13%.”

We found it delightful, and as a sipper, too. You may not find this one; I’ll give you notes on a couple more.

  • Bodegas Riojanas Canchales 2011 Vino Joven Rioja, Spain

This young (“joven”) Tempranillo differs from gran riserva Riojas you might encounter if you have wealthy connections. Those wines spend months, even years, in the winery, and then many buyers lay them down for a couple years or more.

The jovens are released to buyers after only two or three months in the winery, usually not in oak. So this wine is “essentially the Beaujolais of Rioja,” says Ray Isle of Food and Wine wine club. But don’t think these pre-adolescents lack richness. This one has very forward cherry and plum aromas which, along with orange zest accents, burst in the mouth. Their tannins, however, are light, and you might even give this a try with rich salmon.

  • Sendero Royal Lacrimus 5, 2010 Rioja, Spain

A Tempranillo sourced from parcels of good vineyards all over the province. This one is slightly smoky, deep red with purple touches. In the nose and mouth you get cranberry and raspberry with a lighter note of blueberry. A long finish suggests tangerine as well! The smoky sensation likely comes from five months in lightly charred barrels.

Tasty and delicious as an aperitif, it really brightens pastas and roast herbed chicken. If Temperanillo interests you, look for forthcoming notes about the variety as it is produced in other places.

Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster,