Tempranillo, the venerable star of Spanish reds from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, is rising steadily on the West Coast as a hopeful in the American wine industry's continual search for the next big grape.
Given syrah's slow climb into the mainstream, and the nonfactors of Californian Sangiovese and malbec, "big" is an unlikely destiny for domestic tempranillo. Most New World renditions have been pretty fruity but thin and woody, with none of the earthiness and guts that give Spanish vino its swagger.
However, this 2006 effort from San Benito County by Kenneth Volk, which considers tempranillo part of its "heirloom" series of alt-grapes (including malvasia, negrette, and mourvedre), is one of the best I've had to date. Drawn from John Smith vineyard grapes, there's plenty of that plush Cali-fruit — cherries, tart plum, and creamy chocolate — all woven into silky tannins.