Tempranillo is Spains most well know grape variety. The finest wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero are made predominantly from Tempranillo. It adapts well to the different soils and micro climates to produce wines that are distinctive yet distinctly Tempranillo.
Tempranillo is the diminutive of ‘temprano’ meaning ‘early’, because it ripens earlier than most other Spanish grape varieties. Just to make it easy for all you wine enthusiasts, it has many synonyms, I read that there are more than 60!, such as Cencibel, Tinto Fino, Tinto Madrid, Grenache de Logrono, Tinto de la Rioja, Tinto de toro, Jacivera, Tempranilla, Ull de Llebre, Tinto de Santiago.
Outside of Spain you can find Tempranillo in Portugal, where it is known as Tinta Roriz or Aragonez and is one of the main components to make Port and table wines from the Douro Valley.
In California, where it is known as Valdepeñas, some years ago Gallo, the largest winery group in the world, introduced Tempranillo made in America to the US market. In Northern California’s Napa Valley and Sonoma as well as in the states of Oregon and Washington it is also possible good quality Tempranillo.
Tempranillo is also planted in the Languedoc region of Southern France and is blended with other wines to add red berry fruit character and colour.
Australian winemakers are enthusiastic about Tempranillo, particularly in South Australia, notably in Barrosa Valley, McLaren Vale and Victoria. Not unlike the Rioja, McLaren Vale has a climate dominated by warm days and cooler nights from the sea breeze influence of the nearby Gulf of St Vincent.
The growing international success of Australian Tempranillo will create a wider audience and more interest for Spain’s most important grape.
Spanish immigrants to Argentina planted Tempranillo and it has flourished producing very good wines in most regions, particularly Mendoza and San Juan.
Other countries where wines are made from Tempranillo include Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Lebanon, where in the Bekka Valley the Madrileño winemaker Gabriel Rivero has bee making excellent wines for many years at the Ixsir winery.
The style of wine made from Tempranillo depends on where the grape is grown. A continental climate combined with cooler high altitudes sites seems to bring out the variety’s best, conditions suitable for an early ripening grape variety together with the skill of the winemaker and the use of oak barrels to age the wines.
A good quality traditional Spanish Rioja could be described as being medium to full bodied with aromas and flavours of leather, cherries, tobacco, spice with a hint of earthiness. Meanwhile a Tempranillo from a New World region such as Argentina, USA or Australia will tend to have more pronounced dark red fruit flavours and be fuller bodied with chunkier tannins.
Tempranillo is a great food wine, in additional to tapas and Spanish cuisines, it goes well with a wide range of dishes from savoury to lightly spicy as well as barbecues and pizza.
I will arrange a tasting of Tempranillo from around the World, comparing and contrasting the differences in the wines made from this noble grape. If you are interested in coming along let me know.