Tempranillo is as much a signature grape for the Spanish as Malbec is for the Argentineans, Sangiovese for the Italians and Riesling for the Germans. It is cultivated throughout the Iberian peninsula and is sometimes called Aragonez. It is known as Tinta Roriz in Portugal. Tempranillo finds its best expression, however in the Spanish regions of Rioja, Priorat, Ribera del Duero and Montsant. The fact that three of these regions (Rioja, Ribera del Duero & Montsant) became Spain’s first to earn DOCa designation (Spain’s highest appellation status) underscores the importance of Tempranillo as Spain’s premiere red wine grape.
Tempranillo translates as “early little one” from Spanish and it is, indeed, an early ripening varietal. This thick-skinned black grape grows best at higher elevations. It requires coolness in order to produce flavor elegance and acidity but requires heat for color and sugar production. That generates some challenges in both growing and winemaking. Tempranillo typically requires some blending to help achieve a good balance. The grapes most often called on to accomplish this are trusted Spanish stand-bys: Grenache, Graciano and Mazuelo. The extra efforts required by Tempranillo are rewarded by smooth, mellow and refined wines with earthy bouquets of toasted leather, coffee and tobacco, deep red fruit flavors and lingering finishes that often have a hint of ocean spray. Done right, this grape produces rich wines capable of being consumed and enjoyed young but also capable of aging into enjoyable wine for more than a decade.
For the red wine lover, these characteristics offer some thoroughly enjoyable taste opportunities.
It’s helpful to understand the Spanish age classification when choosing which type of Tempranillo to enjoy:
“Crianza” refers to wines that require aging for one year in oak barrels.
“Reserva” designates wines meeting the required minimum of two years of aging, one of which must be on oak.
“Gran Reserva” designates wines meeting minimum requirements of at least two years aging on oak and three years aging in the bottle.
The Wine Guy recommends Marques Caceres Rioja Crianza and Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva as standards to begin your exploration of Tempranillo. These have been the two best sellers in the U.S. market. After those, there are literally scores of excellent wines to choose from but two additional suggestions would be a Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva and a Monticello Rioja Gran Reserva, the 1998 vintage in particular.
Spanish wines are largely very affordable and quality has been on a definite upswing in recent years so go explore and discover the wonderful versatility of a good Tempranillo.
About The Author:
"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.
Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)