Thorngrove Iber Tempranillo 2020
🍇 Tempranillo is a grape most commonly employed in the Rioja region of Spain (often blended with some Garnacha, Mazuelo and – if you’re lucky – Graciano). It’s also used more widely in the Iberian Peninsula; elsewhere in Spain, and also in Portugal, where it is referred to as Tinta Roriz in the North, and Aragones in the South.
This particulaar Temp is made by winemaker Graham Williams, now in his eighth vintage of producing wines under his own Thorngrove label. Graham has been a garagiste for seven vintages, but the 2020 vintage saw him graduate into a “real cellar facility” allowing space for his progressively increasing production (“The fruit simply wouldn’t fit into my garage anymore!”). His production is now a little over 5000 bottles, and his range includes a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot-driven BDX-style blend, a Rhone blend and a straight Shiraz. Graham quite plainly states that he makes wine in the style that he likes to drink; that is to say, large, ripe, layered, and with ballsy alcohol levels.
The Iber Tempranillo is named after Ebro River (originally called “Iber”) that runs through the Rioja region. This is in keeping with two other wines in his range:
1. The Stony River; a Left Bank-style bdx blend named after the Garonne
2. The Rolling River a Rhone-style blend, referencing the Rhone River
💰 Gavin is a winemaker who believes strongly in “paying what the fruit it worth, occasionally breaching the ZAR12,000/ton price point for some of this grapes. Given South Africa’s dwindling pool of specialist wine grape farmers (due to their terrible rate of return on investment) this approach is refreshing and necessary. Graham is not alone in his cognisance of the cost of production, but he is still in a distinct minority of winemakers prepared to pay such prices.
📣 SIDE NOTE: In order for the South Africa wine community to be able to preserve its culture of Vigneron-style farming in South Africa, this minority needs to grow significantly. Without an aggressive reversal of the dismal grape prices in South Africa, our best vineyards and parcels will be lost to citrus, apples or pears; depending on the region.
But that is a topic for another day; back to our Tempranillo!
😎 This Tempranillo carries impressive street cred, being harvested from 30-yr-old bush vines, planted near Malmesbury in the Swartland.
👃🏼 Vanguard carries a modest nose of black cherry, herbal rocket leaf, cherry tomato, and some more enigmatic overtones of crushed gravel, nutmeg, and smoky flint.
👄 The pronounced, juicy, black cherry acidity sits front and centre on the palate. If you’d been disapprovingly scrutinizing the back label, noting the 15% ABV, then this rather fresh berry acidity will come as a pleasant surprise.
While this wine is decidedly riper and more plush than a traditional Spanish Rioja (ripe plum and black cherry as opposed to strawberry, cherry & red plum), it still offers some subtle classic Rioja secondary elements of toasted coconut and hints of vanilla. Fruit is mid-weighted, but tannins are firmer than a russian miner’s thighs, hinting at some decent aging potential.
🔬 Wine of Origin Swartland. Fruit is fermented using Graham’s secret blend of Lallemand yeast strains (My guess is that there have to be some Rioja-specific strains in there, like Uvaferm VRB, as he seems to want to highlight the link to classic Spanish Rioja). He ferments the fruit in Flexcubes, using toasted staves made up of a mix of French and American oak.
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