What is Tempranillo
Tempranillo reigns supreme in Spain. It produces full-bodied and ageworthy wines throughout the country, most notably in Rioja. The grape originates in northern Spain’s Rioja and Navarra region, dating at least to the 1500s. Centuries later, this grape continues to play an important role in the famous wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, and is cultivated in the country’s south as well. As of 2015, Tempranillo was the third most planted wine grape in the world, with almost 90% of its plantings in Spain.
Tempranillo appears nearly black in the vineyard. This thick-skinned grape yields richly colored wines that fade to rust-hued with age. Although it expresses the best when grown at high altitude, it is a grape that can tolerate a fair amount of heat. Notoriously susceptible to pest and disease, Tempranillo can be a challenging grape to cultivate. It prefers soils rich in chalk with good drainage and can be easily affected by vacillations in climate and weather. The grape’s tendency to ripen earlier than others led to its name, which is a diminutive of temprano, the Spanish word for early.
The ruby-colored wines are, at their best, full of bright red and blue fruit, like plum, raspberry and tart cherry. Wines made with Tempranillo also take on secondary characteristics. Notes of tobacco, herbs and leather are also common. This grape has the potential to age for a long time and it is often blended with other grapes like Garnacha (Grenache).
Tempranillo in Spain
The regions of Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro in Northern Spain are most associated with Tempranillo. The grape accounts for 88% of red grapes in Rioja. While varietal wines can be produced, it is often blended with small amounts of Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo. Wines from Rioja can be light and easy, lush and deep or elegant and ageworthy.
Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero and Toro are more powerful and concentrated in nature when compared to most Rioja. Locally known as Tinto Fino or Tinta de Toro, these wines are made entirely from Tempranillo and can be dark in hue and tannic in nature.
In addition to Spain, Tempranillo has had success in Portugal, in the Douro region, where it is referred to as Tinta Roriz. It is also referred to as Aragonês and has spread throughout the Dão, Tejo and Lisboa regions.
The grape has been grown in California’s Central Valley for some time now, having arrived there with the name Valdepeñas. In California, the grape was somewhat ill-suited to the climate, and the majority was often used in blends before an uptick in more serious expressions starting in the 1980s.
The hot, arid climates of Texas’ High Plains and Hill Country regions have been compared, to parts of Spain. As a result, the grape has found success in the state and is now considered one of its most important. Tempranillo has been grown in Washington’s Yakima Valley since 1993, and has had moderate success there. It is also grown in Oregon, Australia, Argentina, Chile and Mexico.
Tempranillo grapes are found in red, rose, sparkling, and dessert wines.