Tempranillo wine guide: vine, history and organoleptic characteristics of the king of Spanish wines
Tempranillo is the most important Spanish grape variety, one of the most cultivated in the world, not only in Spain where it dominates in three of the most appreciated wine-growing regions, namely Ribera del Duero, Toro and La Rioja, home to very great red wines.
Speaking of the Tempranillo is not easy, tracing an identikit of this wine is an elusive operation, given that we are not talking about a grape variety with such recognizable character as has Sangiovese, to which Tempranillo is often compared, or Nebbiolo or the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Tempranillo is quite the opposite, it’s a bit shy and mysterious: if you eat a grape of a bunch of Tempranillo you will not recognize many flavors or “primary aromas”. It is a fairly neutral vine, but this does not mean that it is insipid quite the contrary, its elegance hides in-depth and not everyone can make it emerge. This is the real problem: the myriad of dull wines produced in Spain with this grape variety, which do nothing but reinforce the idea that the Tempranillo is an unqualified wine.
So why should we talk about this Spanish red wine and why is it so widespread all over the world?
The answer is that, if well cultivated, if you give it the right care, good night time temperature, a rocky and mineral-rich terroir and long aging in wood, this ugly duckling develops an incredible tertiary bouquet. In addition to the famous spicy suggestions, what is striking are the complex and mottled balsamic notes that the Tempranillo can offer, when it is made with low yields, longer macerations and adequate aging in wood.
Otherwise, it becomes the quintessence of boredom, there are too many light wines, even fresh and fruity, but without the slightest personality. Consider that it is grown in every corner of Spain and that it is often cut with other more consistent wines, so it is practically ubiquitous on the Spanish soil.
But now let’s talk about great wines. And when we tell you that if it is well done the Tempranillo reaches high heights, we say it with good reason, because to give a very small example, an iconic and grandiose wine like the Vega Unico Sicilia is a Tempranillo, produced only in the best vintages. Consider that to buy the latest Vega vintages you have to pay at least 400-500 euros per bottle, so we’re not talking about a cheap bag in box wine.
Another great proof of the greatness of Tempranillo is its stable presence in the blend of Porto wine, the famous fortified wine of Portugal, where Tempranillo is called Tinta Roriz or Aragones.
Tempranillo organoleptic characteristics
The bunch of this noble Spanish red wine is very delicate, the skin is thin and susceptible to the attacks of diseases and rot, for this reason, the areas that it prefers are dry and ventilated, such as the Ribera del Duero, where the thermal excursion goes from 40 degrees to 15. But this is precisely the climate that allows Tempranillo to develop finesse, acidity, and aromas. In these extreme and contrasting climates, the grapes can complete a slow but constant polyphenolic maturation and with the temperature range, the freshness is assured. Then with all that concentration and acidity, you need a long refinement to shape them, to give roundness and fullness. So while Tempranillo matures in wood it develops all its hidden aromatic charge.
But let’s get to the main features of this Spanish wine. The bouquet of Tempranillo is floral and fruity, endowed with vivacity, but not very expressive, however, if it ages for a long time, here come out these balsamic suggestions of eucalyptus, olives, rosemary, mint, and then the more spicy ones of cedar, tobacco, sweet spices, cocoa, while the fruit becomes ripe. As mentioned above, in terms of aromas it resembles Sangiovese: the aromas they share are those of plum, olives, fennel, bay leaves and aromatic herbs such as thyme and oregano. But as wines are not exactly similar, Sangiovese is more nervous and earthy, while Tempranillo develops a much spicier and peppery tertiary.
Tempranillo production areas
On the palate the Tempranillo has good acidity, ample structure, tannins can be vigorous, but basically, it is not a meaty-warm wine. So much so that often you find it in blend with the more passionate Garnacha, especially in Rioja wines, where it is less concentrated and muscular and able to find more shades. Even the classification of the Rioja wine itself helps to develop the aromatic hidden charge of the grape. The first level is a simple “entry-level wine”: the Joven is fresh and fruity. Crianza slightly more complex with a fast wood aging; Reserva makes a more intense wood aging and then the qualitative apex is reached with the Gran Reserva, which also refines for seven years in wood.
On the other hand, if you go 100 km away and reach Ribera del Duero, it changes profile completely. Here it is mighty, dense, with a muscular fruit and a peppery charm.
And finally, we get to the last stop of our Tempranillo wine trip, landing on the less famous, but evocative, region called Toro, where high temperatures load the bunches of sugar and therefore very high alcohol levels once vinified. In this case, the Tempranillo becomes sumptuous and rich, always balsamic, but slower and less reactive, it loses that typical freshness, sinking in a concentration that has a baroque style.
What is the price of a bottle of Tempranillo?
To give you an idea of the prices of this Spanish wine, think that the 2009 Vega Sicilia Unico costs 380-400 euros, a medium quality bottle like a Crianza costs 15, a Reserva 40 euro.
Etymology and other names
Temprano means early because it is a vine that matures much earlier than all other Spanish vines, hence the name. The other names with which it is known are Cencibel, Tinto Fino, Tinto del Pais, Tinta del Toro in the various Spanish regions and Aragonez and Tinta Roriz in Portugal.