Tempranillo is a deeply colored wine of low to medium acid and medium tannin. Although it is non-aromatic, you will still get some ripe fruit on the nose and palate. Oak treatment will also provide the more complex aromas and flavor Tempranillo wines are known for.
It is a thick-skinned grape that needs a cooling influence and does best on chalky soil. Its propensity to ripen early is how it got its name. The Spanish word, “temprano,” means exactly that - early. It also explains how it gets its somewhat wild flavors. It is chiefly blended with Grenache or other local varieties, but can also be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. It really needs oak to make a quality wine.
I have often heard this varietal referred to as the dirty grape. It could be because it is less likely to taste first like fruit and more likely to take on more masculine flavors such as game, tobacco and leather. I suppose we can think of it as the rugged cowboy of Spain's red wines.
Tempranillo is the key ingredient in the wines labeled “Rioja.” It is the most planted grape in Spain. Like Syrah in France, Tempranillo is blended mostly with Grenache to add balance. Where Tempranillo brings the strength, Grenache brings the flavor. It is also grown in Ribera del Duero, where it is known as “Tinto Fino.” The wines of Ribera del Duero have even deeper color, higher tannins and more dark fruit flavors than the wines of Rioja.
There are four categories of the wines of Tempranillo here and they are based on aging requirements. Joven has no minimum aging requirements. Crianza requires a minimum of 24 months, six of which are on oak. Reservas age for 36 months, 12 of which are on oak, and Gran Reserva wines age 60 months, 18 of which are on oak.
Outside Spain, this varietal can be found in Duoro, Portugal where it is used in the production of port as well as still wines and goes by the name “Roriz.” It is also found in Dao, Portugal. It is found to a small extent in Argentina. California, Oregon and Australia are also toying with this grape.
Try comparing a Rioja with a Tinto Ribera del Duero. What differences in style do you notice? You may choose to compare a Tempranillo of Spain to a Tempranillo of Portugal. At the risk of sounding redundant or cliche, you may also wish to compare an Old World example to one from the New World. Maybe even throw in a port.
On The Label
Rioja, Tempranillo, Tinto (if you also see Rioja, Ribera del Duero or Roriz)
In The Bottle
Red fruit, spice, dark fruit, tobacco, game, leather, vegetal
At The Table
Grilled meats, aged cheese
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