No other grape variety is as synonymous with Spanish red wine as Tempranillo. It is the top grape variety in the country and the leading grape variety of the proud wine nation. Temprano means “early” in Spanish, and the name refers to its early ripening in the season. Surprisingly, this derivation applies to the Primitivo di Puglia, albeit only in Italian. But let’s get back to the Spanish Tempranillo, whose “illo” is still a mystery. The ending -illo is used as a diminutive form in Spanish. Ultimately, this means that the individual berries on the grape are small.
A name that can teach you something
According to some sources, Tempranillo has at least 80 other grape variety names. It is known as Cencibel and Tinto del Pas in the large Vino de la Tierra region of Castilla-La Mancha. In Catalonia, however, the Ull de Llebre is referred to in appellations such as the Priory. Tinta de Toro can be found in the DO Toro region, and Tinto Fino in the Ribera del Duero region. To complicate matters further, in Portugal’s wine country, where Tempranillo is also popular, it is known as Aragonez in the Alentejo and Tinta Roriz in the Douro.
Tempranillo in a nutshell:
Tempranillo is an old variety, with historical references dating back to 1807, but it is thought that the Phoenicians actually brought it over 3,000 years ago.
With over 570,000 acres planted as of 2018, it is the world’s third most planted grape variety. Spain is home to more than 80% of the world’s Tempranillo.
Tempranillo is known as the “noble grape” of Spain.
Because of their distinctive jagged and deep-lobed leaves, vines are among the easiest to identify. In the fall, these leaves turn a brilliant red.
What distinguishes the Tempranillo?
Tempranillo berries have a thick, dark skin that adds color to the wine. Furthermore, the Tempranillo contributes a lot of tannins, which, combined with good phenolic maturity and well-understood aging in wooden barrels, give the wine structure and fullness. Tempranillo’s intense fruit aroma is also popular.
Cherry notes and dark berry fruits are featured in Tempranillo. With bottles that have been aged in barrels for extended periods, the aroma spectrum broadens to include hints of chocolate and spices and tobacco and leather.
A Tempranillo rarely comes alone
The Tempranillo requires cooler layers to maintain the proper amount of acidity. In Spain, vineyards at several hundred meters in elevation, and regions with Atlantic climate influences that provide cool air in the hot summers, give the grapes room for slow ripening.
The Tempranillo grape variety blends beautifully with Spain’s other native vines. The most well-known are the DOCa Rioja cuvées made from Grenache, Mazuelo, or Macabeo. This region’s Reserva and Gran Reserva wines also demonstrate impressive aging potential. In this regard, the best Rioja wines can be compared to the great Bordelais wines.
Tempranillo’s ancestors and origins
Several stories surround the Tempranillo grape variety’s origin. Cistercian monks are said to have brought the premier winemaking trade and a few Pinot Noir vines from Burgundy to Spain. According to DNA tests, it was a mutation from the white grape variety, Albillo Mayor, and the red vines, Benedicto. But what I like best is the pictorial derivation provided by grape variety and wine expert Jancis Robinson, a Master of Wine. “If you think of Rioja as Spain’s Bordeaux and Burgundy combined, then think of the famous Tempranillorebe as a marriage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.”
Key dates in Tempranillo’s history:
1513: The tempranillo grape was first mentioned under the synonym “Aragonés.”
1807: The most reliable mention of tempranillo dates from 1807, when it was praised in La Rioja’s Logroo and Navarra’s Peralta.
1852: Luciano de Murrieta (later the Marqués de Murrieta), who traveled to Bordeaux and returned in 1852 to establish the first commercial bodega, is credited with the modern history of Tempranillo.
On this day:
International Tempranillo Day is on the 12th of November
Want to read more about Tempranillo? Try reading these books!
Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavors (ALLEN LANE) eBook: Robinson, Jancis, Harding, Julia, Vouillamoz, José