Tempranillo is Spain's most distinguished grape variety, providing the backbone of some of the peninsula's most prized wines, including Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro.
Its thick skins translate into deeply-coloured wines with intense flavours and high tannins, lending themselves well to ageing.
'The small early one', is actually a tough cookie
Its name in Spain derives from its tendency to ripen early (this very word is translated into Spanish as temprano). Often it will be harvested and fermenting away in the winery several weeks before its common blending partner, garnacha, is ready to be picked. This short cycle works to its advantage, meaning it is not adversely affected by the harsh climates in many of the regions in which it tends to flourish.
Over the border in Portugal, the vine goes under the moniker of tinta roriz in the Douro where it has long been used in the production of port, and aragonez/aragonês in the south; its significance as a variety for table wines is increasing.
Spain | Portugal
- Red fruit
- Stewed fruit
- Leather and vanilla in aged wines
'Spain's most famous red grape variety, whose name means 'the small early one', is actually a tough cookie thriving in challenging conditions and producing some of the country's best wines. It operates under a number of different names across the Iberian Peninsula and is a key component of port.'
Tempranillo, along with garnacha, mazuelo and graciano, is one of the grapes of Rioja. Along with garnacha, tempranillo is the most significant of the four, and it contributes flavours of strawberries, spice and leather to the wine. Such flavours complement the more robust, vibrant fruit of garnacha well, and their combination is to many the very trademark of the region's wines.
In Ribera del Duero, tempranillo is more commonly known as tinto fino or tinta del país. Since this region was awarded DO status (denominación de origen) in 1982, it has been an area of great expansion and development, with a focus on the production of fine wine.
The harsh climate and landscape of the region are well-suited to this tough vine. The winters are cold with frost known to occur in late spring, whilst summers are hot with temperatures reaching 40ºC dropping sharply at night. Here tempranillo produces a deeply coloured, structured wine with firm fruit flavour. The wines take on a more cedary, herbal character than those of neighbouring Rioja, with abundant smoke and fruit flavours.
Tempranillo thrives in harsh conditions. Winter at Contino, Rioja.
In Toro, the grape becomes 'tinta de Toro.' Situated furthest from the Portuguese border, along the river Duero, this region pushes the variety's hardy credentials to the limit. With vines planted at high altitude in harsh heat, the thick-skinned, early ripening grape produces an intense and concentrated wine. These wines are rustic in style with black-fruit flavours and huge structure.
Finally, as the 'cencibel' of La Mancha and Valdepeñas, in south central Spain, tempranillo is capable of producing deep, supple reds of real character.
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Tempranillo undergoes not one but two name changes in Portugal: it is known as tinta roriz in the north in the Douro and Dão, and aragonez/aragonês in Alentejo. It is perfectly suited to the harsh conditions that prevail in these terrains, from the steeply sloping vineyards, where rocks and stones are more prevalent than soil in the north, to the challenging drought-prone climate of the Alentejo.
One of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, and deservedly Portugal's best known, the Douro leads the way now not merely for port, but fine red table wine, in which tinta roriz is a key player.
Although there is an enormous variety of different terroirs within the valley, it is in essence a sparsely-populated, hot, arid region. Rightly, port shippers now take light wines more seriously, no longer regarding their production as a distraction from the 'real business' of making port. These wines tend to be high in tannin and flavour; the skill of the winemaker is to keep fruit and freshness in the finished wine. This is something that can be achieved by using fruit grown at high altitude.
As tinta roriz, the grape is key component in port where it is grown at altitude to off-set the heat.
The region of Alentejo stretches south from the Tagus to the Algarve and east to the border with Spain and covers almost a third of continental Portugal. Aragonez, as the grape is known here, produces a full-flavoured, gutsy red wine with vibrant, red-fruit flavours on the palate. These wines are highly enjoyable and offer excellent value for money.
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As tempranillo produces such high quality wines in its home in Spain it is unsurprising that new world winemakers should want to experiment with it. The Australians and now Chile are having success with the grape.
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