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Uncorked: California wine has Spanish influence

The learning curve seems to have been mastered quickly.

Dan Cederquist never made wine using Tempranillo fruit, yet after just eight vintages of Matchbook, he’s crafted the finest domestic interpretation of the the varietal most commonly associated with Spain.

Grown in poor, rocky soil under the hot sun that sends daytime temperatures soaring in the Dunnigan Hills AVA in the Sacramento Valley, Matchbook Tempranillo is a stunning New World interpretation that still has plenty of Old World characteristics.

Winemaker spotlight

A Mediterranean climate is just part of what imparts a Spanish influence on Matchbook Tempranillo.

“We are in a great region that has an influence very similar to Spain,” said winemaker and partner Dan Cederquist, who got his start in the industry at Stag’s Leap in Napa Valley. “We have hot days with daytime temperatures in the high 90s or low 100s, yet, because of the Pacific Ocean, it cools down at night. The vines are cuttings from the Pesquera region in Spain and are planted in Corning red gravelly soil, which helps control the limited water the vines receive. 

“Because we are closer to the coast, it gets cooler at night and it allows for full development,” he said. “Tempranillo can be tannic and harsh. Sometimes it takes five years in the barrel to be tamed. But we are able to blend it a little, do some pump overs and bleed off some juice. We want intense, not hard wines. It’s a fine line to find the balance.”

The balance was found, however, and a varietal known for early ripening has adapted well to the region. The cooperage has a Spanish influence. A mixture of Spanish and American barrels impart two unique distinct flavors. There’s a mocha influence from the Spanish barrels and a wonderful vanilla note from the American oak.

Attention to detail added characteristics found in the Spanish interpretation of Tempranillo, yet the bright sunshine and heat of California are unmistakable. The blueberry and Bristol raspberry fruit notes the heat helps to impart are unmistakable.

“We wanted to increase the Spanish association and get a nice chocolate flavor,” Cederquist said. “We get a vanilla note from the domestic barrels. I really like the track we are on, there’s also a nice fruit characteristic. I’d never worked with Tempranillo before. It took some time to learn the terroir, but after eight years I think we’ve really dialed it in. We’ve got a goal to make Tempranillo the best wine on the planet.”

What to buy

Matchbook, Tempranillo 2010 ($14.99): Tempranillo is often a varietal that’s crafted on a winemaker’s whim in California. With Matchbook Tempranillo, a serious examination of the varietal offers blueberry, Bristol raspberry, cigar wrapper, clove and rosemary. There’s great mocha and vanilla notes as well that help provide a firm backbone. Enjoy it with grilled lamb chops, olives or cantaloupe wrapped in spiced ham – preferably prosciutto.

Wine 101

Under the watchful eye of Galena Cellars Assistant Winemaker Allan Hyland, the Marquette grape in the vineyards at the Northwest Illinois winery underwent veraison last weekend. Veraison is the onset of ripening. As sugars rise, the grapes turn red and purple.

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at

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