Wine Guide: Tempranillo
No other grape variety is as synonymous with Spanish red wine as Tempranillo. It is the undisputed number one grape variety in Spain. Whether it’s the top appellation Rioja, the outstanding red wines of the Ribera del Duero region, or the recently rediscovered gems from the DO Toro: the red wine community cannot ignore Tempranillo.
Why is the grape variety called “Tempranillo”?
It doesn’t take much Spanish to figure out what the name “Tempranillo” means. In Spanish, “temprano” means “early.” This indicates that Tempranillo is one of the grapes that ripen early. Surprisingly, this derivation also applies – albeit only in Italian – to the Primitivo di Puglia. But let’s return 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 quite small.
A name that can teach you something
According to some sources, there are at least 80 other grape variety names for Tempranillo. 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.
What distinguishes the Tempranillo?
The name reveals that it ripens early and that the berries are small. It is also critical that the Tempranillo berries have 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 appreciated. Aromas of fresh, ripe strawberries can be found in young red wines and Rosados, Tempranillo rosé wines.
Cherry notes and dark berry fruits come to the fore in ripened specimens. Tempranillo retains a subtle herbaceous note in some growing areas. With the Tempranillo aged in barrique barrels for a long time, the aroma spectrum broadens to include hints of chocolate and spices, tobacco, and leather.
A Tempranillo rarely comes alone
The Tempranillo requires cooler layers to maintain the proper amount of acidity. In Spain, this means vineyards at several hundred meters in elevation and regions with Atlantic climate influences, which provide cooling in the hot summers and, especially at night, give the grapes the pause for slow ripening.
The Tempranillo grape variety blends beautifully with Spain’s other native vines. The most well-known are probably 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
Cistercian monks are said to have brought the upscale 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. Wine expert Jancis Robinson, who is also a master of wine, provides an apt description, “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.” See more articles here
Want to read more about Tempranillo? Try reading these books!
Date for your diary:
International Tempranillo Day is on the 12th of November
- Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012
- Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010
- The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019
By Agne27 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,