Tempranillo: Spain’s foremost red wine grape
Together with Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo is the most important red wine grape for Rioja in northern Spain. It thrives in the cooler parts of the Rioja Alta and Alavesa and accounts for approximately half the vines planted in the region.
Geographic distribution of the Tempranillo grape is limited. It is found mainly in Spain. The variety is also grown in Portugal
, especially in the Alentejo
regions and as a port wine grape in the Douro Valley
, where Tempranillo is better known as Tinta Roriz and Aragonez
. Tempranillo is also increasingly being planted in Australia, the USA and South Africa.
In Catalonia it is also being blended with grape varieties such as Monastrell and Cabernet Sauvignon by Miguel Torres and other winemakers. The wines are then marketed under the Catalan name Ull de Llebre. Tempranillo is also widely planted in the La Mancha region, where it is blended with the white variety Airén.
Tempranillo: a good blending wine
Tempranillo grapes have very thick skins which produce a lot of tannins in the resulting wine, which in turn makes them very ageable. If even longer ageing is desired, Tempranillo is blended with Garnacha and Mazuelo. The forward tannins become smoother with age.
The grapes have low acidity and ripen early – “temprano” being “early” in Spanish. Despite the low acidity, the wines are lively, fresh, light and elegant. Exposure of the grape to high temperatures results in relatively flat wines. Tempranillo is rarely vinified as a pure varietal but usually blended with other varieties.
Varietally pure Tempranillos are mainly made in Ribera del Duero
in Spain where very muscular expressions are produced.
Aromas of the Tempranillo grape variety
The aromas vary depending on soil and climate. Wines from cooler sites display notes of redcurrants, raspberries and cherries, whereas aromas of plums and spices come to the fore in grapes grown where temperatures are higher.
Rioja traditionally uses new barrels made of American white oak which impart a special flavour to the wine and determine its quality. Unfortunately, however, the powerful vanilla notes that most Rioja wines take on from the new oak often overshadow the varietal characteristics. In the best bottlings the elegant soft fruit of the Tempranillo grape is noticeable and makes for pleasurable drinking.