Tempranillo is the Spanish answer to Cabernet Sauvignon and is the variety that enhances the quality of the majority of Iberian wines.
The grape has a thick skin and can produce wines of intense color and longevity while not always showing a high alcohol content, a feat not common in its homeland of sunny and hot Spain!
Temprano means early and the probable origin of the name is due precisely to this element, the tendency of the grapes to ripen early, up to two weeks earlier than other noble varieties. Particularly sensitive to aridity, this grape variety has an excellent adaptation to the generally harsh climate of the higher areas or in areas influenced by the Atlantic ocean.
The Aromas of Tempranillo
The typical aromatic character of the Tempranillo grape presents notes of dark fruit, primarily black currant and wild strawberry, then cherry and raspberry, tobacco leaves, spices and coffee! Vanilla, toast and coconut occur through barrel aging!
Tempranillo is the base varietal of the two most prestigious red wines in Spain, Rioja and Ribera del Duero, but is present throughout northern and central Spain. It has always been a type of grape that is mixed with others to mitigate an innate impetuosity and make the final cuvée more harmonious.
Tempranillo in the districts of Spain
This grape variety is grown in different districts of Spain: Rioja, Navarra, Aragon, Catalonia, La Mancha, Ribera del Duero in Castile-León, Tinta deToro and others.
In the territory of origin of La Rioja Temranillo grapes are mixed with those of Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano; La Rioja is the most prestigious appellation of red wine of Spain, the first to be recognized with the mention “calificada”. Tempranillo wine expresses an aromatic profile with scents of cooked fruit such as black cherry and black currant, notes of smoke and black pepper, intertwined with notes of dry leaves and graphite, depending on the soils of red clay or white limestone or of alluvial deposits.
The Navarra district is north east of La Rioja. It has the same type of soils of La Rioja but a very different wine style. Here the Tempranillo wines are not as appreciated as those from La Rioja and the climatic conditions give them fruity and spicy aromas.
Somontano in Aragona is the new frontier of Spanish wine. It is a small district that produces wines which are elegant, fresh and juicy. The center is Barbastro and the soils have vulcanic origin and are rich in minerals, producing wines with notes of small berries, graphite, and leather.
This grape is grown everywere in Spain, to the point that it has different names. It is known as Ull de Lebre (“Hare's Eye”) in the Barcellona area. In Catalogna it is often blended with Monastrell grapes to enhance the strength, the color, and the spicy aromas. Among the main appellations there are Tarragone (fruit and spices), Alella (cherry), Ampurdan – Costa Brava (red plum) Costers Segre (green notes and undergrowth).
Cencibel is the name of Tempranillo in the wide central zone called Castiglia-La Mancha, a high Plateau named after the dry soil and the extreme heat. This is the biggest wine area in the world and it was well known and appreciated in the sixteenth through the nineteenth century. It includes 9 appellations: La-Mancha, Méntrida, Ribera del Jùcar, Almansa, Valdepeñas, and others.
- Today the Don Quixote region, in La-Mancha, is considerably innovative with the style of wine it produces, obtaining fresh and fruity wines with references of liquored cherries and, at times, earthy notes.
- In Valdepeñas the varietal is prevalent albeit producing wines that are sometimes too powerful. In these instances there is often the addition of white grapes to soften the profile, and this area is certainly the most prestigious area in the region for the overall quality of the wine. The area's climate is quite peculiar with nine months of winter and three months of extreme heat and the varietal is grown in terrains of a yellowish red and stony soil on a limestone base. The wine is rich and balanced with floral, vegetal and vanilla aromas. The Rosé, or Rosado, of the appellation is noteworthy as well, expressing strawberry and violet aromas.
Tinto Fino, or Tinto del País, are the names of Tempranillo produced in the cold region of Ribera del Duero in Castiglia-León. This area is located north of Madrid along the river. The vines are cultivated at an altitude that enables them to preserve their acidity giving its wines an advantage and a notable longevity. The wine's aromas include notes of prune, chocolate, fig, liquorish, cinnamon, tar and Havana cigar.
Tinta de Toro is the name of Tempranillo in the area of Castiglia-León which is next to the Robera del Duero. This area is considered an enological miracle thanks to its excellent climatic conditions. The wine produced here is tannic and full bodied. The grapes ripen well, bringing aromatic balance of a fruity and spicy character to the wine, with notes of cooked cherries, prunes, juniper and pink pepper.
Tempranillo in Portugal
Tempranillo is among the few Spanish varieties adopted to a consistent extent by neighboring Portugal where it is recognized with the name of Tinta Roriz. It is an appreciated ingredient of the renowned Porto to which it contributes notes of fruit, berries and smoke.
In the Douro valley and further south in the Dão, which is a hilly countryside where bare granite emerges from a sandy soil and the summers are hot with a lot of rain, the Tinta Roriz produces a soft wine with crisp raspberry aroma and wet earthy notes.
Lisbon to the south offers the Terras do Sado area where we intercept the Aragonez, that is the ubiquitous Tempranillo, which is prevalent in the blends of red wines with variable results but worthy of interest for the best cuvées. The characteristic notes are black cherries and tobacco.
In the central-southern area around the town of Lusitanian lies the Borba, a sub-area of the Alentejo, with marble and granite soil producing a wine that expresses ripe red fruit.
Tempranillo in Argentina
Argentina for cultural influences of the past is the country that claims the Tempranilla grape and that gives rise to lighter red wines, even if the recent viticultural innovation that has as its fulcrum in the district of Mendoza produces wines with a strong personality whose aromatic palette reaches the most intense notes of the grape with scents of dark plum and coffee. Valle de Uco, one of the five areas of Mendoza is located near the relief of Tupungato and is distinguished by a high altitude viticulture at about a thousand meters with a more ventilated and cool climate, certainly in favor of white grapes but where Tempranillo manages to exploit the resistance to the specific terroir; the wine is fruity and aromatic with aromas of blackberry and mint.
Tempranillo: one grape which has many names and many different styles. The task it undertakes is two-fold, on the one hand it represents all the different production areas and production styles in Spain and Portugal; on the other, through its fundamental role in one of the most famous and distinct wines in the world, The Rioja Tinto, which is having a great economic success, it is favoring the birth and growth of many new wineries.