Tempranillo Challenge at the American Club

collageI am now dabbing my pants with a strong cleaner as I write this. Fortunately they were not ruined by the hot chocolate we had for dessert at the Tempranillo Challenge organized by the Coterie de Dionysus.

Tempranillo is the most important red Rebsorte in Spain. Rebsorte here means grape variety, usually cultivated for wine. The name is derived from the word “Temprano” which is Spanish for “Early” and Tempranillo is translated as “Small Early Ones” because Tempranillo tends to ripen early.

Tempranillo has thick-shelled berries, is compact in the stalk and serves for the production of dark, long-lived wines. It lends a strong backbone and a fruit-driven character to the wine. Although recently, some thin-skinned ones have appeared.

The wines are not excessively alcoholic (approx. 11-13 %) and have large ripe potential in the wood. They are characterised by elegance and sweet tannins, which is why they can be drunk relatively young contrary to Cab Savs. However, their potential is fully realized after some aging in a barrel or barrique.

Tempranillo wines used to be considered cheap hooch until Robert Parker alerted the world to the potential, when he hailed the Pesquera 1986 of Alejandro Fernández as the ‘Pétrus of Spain’.

I was sick and down with a cold, but I really like Tempranillo wines, so I hauled myself out of bed and headed for to the American Club for the Tempranillo Challenge organized by the Coterie de Dionysus. The Tempranillo wines used in the challenge came from two regions: La Rioja and Ribera del Duero.

RIMG0078 RIMG0070

The Rioja wines wines are produced from Tempranillo (60-90%), Granacha and Mazuelo blends and are aged for longer periods in the winery than in other parts of Spain. In fact, the Crianza (category of wines that are aged for at least a year) category, which denotes the shortest amount of aging at 2 years combined aging in barrel and bottle, in most regions requires 6 months of barrel aging, whereas for crianzas from Rioja, the barrel aging requirement is 1 year. This longer aging time results in softer, subtler wines. For example, Gran Reservas are aged in barriques for two years and three years in the bottle before released for sale.

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The Tempranillo from Ribera differ slightly in that they are smaller but have thicker skins, this means that the resulting Must is more concentrated. The resulting richer-coloured, tannic, full-bodied characters are reinforced by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This makes the Ribera wines a little more acceptable to the world of wine drinkers who are used to the Cab-sav blends. The Rioja blends are deemed to be rougher on the edges.

Personally, I find the Rioja more interesting and flavourful mainly because of the Tempranillo and Granacha (Grenache) flavours. Sweet, chocolatey and thick with notes of coffee on the nose.

And what better cuisine to experience Tempranillo than Spanish? And what better way to start the dinner than Tapas?


Fortunately we did not adhere to the Spanish custom of eating dinner at around 10pm. However, we were seated in a ballroom where the tables were strangely arranged in a horse-shoe facing a curtain. After eating for many years, we were no strangers to strangeness, but the strange part here was that no line of buxom beauties in a bathing suit came out to be judged.

How strange.

Salpicon de Maricos Con Nectarine Tartar de Atun con Huevos de Salmon

The Salpicon de Maricos Con Nectarine (seafood salad with nectarine) was a refreshing crunch that was quickly consumed and forgotten, and the Tartar de Atun con Huevos de Salmon (salmon caviar with tuna tartare) was hopeless as the strong Salmon roe overwhelmed the seared Tuna.

Milhojas de Crema de Queso y Jamon Serrano Tortilla Espanola

The Milhojas de Crema de Queso y Jamon Serrano (mille fueille of serrano ham with cream cheese) fared better with the ham lending a sharp contrast to the cream cheese in a flaky pastry and the simply named Tortilla Espanola (potato omelette) was delicious.


The next set of dishes were promptly placed on our tables as we were distracted by the discourse on the wines of the night.

Gambas Al Ajillo Foie Gras Al Pedro Ximenez

I did not try the Gambas Al Ajillo (prawns in garlic) but it sure looked good. The Foie Gras Al Pedro Ximenez (foie Gras glazed in Pedro ximenez) was not very exciting as I think the Goose Liver was slightly overdone.

Banderillas de Pollo con Salsa Pepitorie Almondigas de Rape y Langostinos con Romesco

The Banderillas de Pollo con Salsa Pepitorie (grilled chicken with pepper sauce) was slightly on the overcooked side but was a welcome sight because of the dangerously delicious-looking garlic prawns. That’s ok because I was distracted by the Almondigas de Rape y Langostinos con Romesco (small prawn and monkfish balls) which according to a lot of people, was delicious.

Seafood Paella

At this time, a waiter approached and whispered that the Seafood Paella was served and we might want to leave room for the lamb to come.

And a good thing we did. The Castillian Style Lamb Shank was massive. No mere thumb can convey its size, so someone gamely leap to the occasion to provide a size comparision.

Castillian Style Lamb Shank

Yes. It was almost as big as a head of Human.

The lamb shank came with two balls. Of pickled onions. I normally avoid pickled stuff because I am not partial to the taste, but strangely, the ones served with the lamb shanks were piquant and contrasted very well to the gamey and rich meat.

Castillian Style Lamb Shank RIMG0050

Dessert came in the form of Churros with Hot Chocolate. I am not sure how Churros are supposed to taste, but the ones we had were a little limp and slightly soggy. Being Asian, we are used to the crispy, hot and stiff Youtiaos.

Churros with Hot Chocolate

But it was all good. We even found out that the chocolate went very well with the bread and the very excellent butter they served.

Churros with Hot Chocolate Churros with Hot Chocolate Churros with Hot Chocolate Churros with Hot Chocolate

The photo with the bread and very excellent Boursin Bonlac butter was just before the whole thing spilled over. Some one remarked that I moved very fast to evade the whole thing from landing on my lap; Angel, when something remotely threatening moves towards Mr. Happy, Mr. Happy moves. With extreme alacrity.

This is known in some cultures as “Los Movimientos De la Serpiente De Trouser” or in less polite company, “Les boules déplacent le corps”.

Anyway, it was a wonderful evening, despite my cold and the hot boiling lava chocolate, the food was filling, service was excellent and the wines tasted delicious. Ribera won, which was not surprising given how close it tasted to French wines. I can’t wait to get the 100% Tempranillo wines.

Oh yes, because someone asked me to:

Gambas Al Ajillo

Posted on 5th Oct 2006 in Coterie de Dionysus, Drink, Food and Drink, Spanish


There Are 4 Comments


umami commented on October 5, 2006 at 5:48 pm

Ivan, it was Bonlac butter from Australia, not Boursin.


Ivan commented on October 8, 2006 at 12:45 am

Ooops! Heh heh heh… Will change it.


nonchann commented on October 10, 2006 at 4:17 pm

Which restaurant catered the spanish food?


ivn commented on October 10, 2006 at 7:17 pm

@nonchann: The Tapas bar on the ground floor I think.

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