Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Spain is synonymous with Tempranillo, though many wine lovers are unaware of this because of its numerous and confusing aliases. The best and most famous regions are Rioja and Ribera del Duero (where it is known as Tinto Fino and Tinto del Pais) but fine examples can be found from Toro (as Tinta de Toro), Valdepeñas (Cencibel), and the Penedes (Ojo de Llebre and Ull de Llebre).  

Tempranillo gained fame in the late 1800s when several of the famous Bordeaux Châteaus looked to Spain for grapes after the louse phylloxera had destroyed their vines. Tempranillo takes well to both oak and bottle aging, and the better examples can be extraordinarily long-lived. Tempranillo ripens early (temprano means “early” in Spanish), has thick skins, and makes deeply-colored wines. It is highly resistant to heat, growing best on hot, dry, south facing slopes away from water (it is susceptible to rot)

In La Rioja, Tempranillo expresses itself differently from vineyards in high-elevation Alta, warmer and flatter Baja, and a small area on the other side of the Rio Ebro, Alavesa, where it is known for finesse. Winemakers are free to blend grapes from across these zones, and also have the freedom to blend in Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes for balance. Barrel-aging is required and controlled by the local Consejo Regulador (Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva have progressively longer required barrel aging before release). Even at Crianza level, the wines are balanced, expressive, and supple, not at all like the often harsh, disjointed, high alcohol new releases from so many parts of the world. Many new wave producers in Ribera del Duero, on the other hand, are relying heavily on French and American oak barrels for richness and flavor.

In Portugal it is known as Tinta Roriz, and is commonly used in the blend for Port (it constitutes 12.1% of plantings in the Douro Valley, the second most prevalent vine). Further south in the Dão it is known as Tinta Aragonez. Tempranillo is grown in the Languedoc-Roussillon in Southern France. In Argentina it is known as Tempranilla, where it still occupies the second largest area planted to red wine-grape varieties. It excels in the Valle de Uco. It is also planted in California, where it sometimes goes under the name of Valdepeñas.

In general Tempranillo makes masculine wines with a firm tannic structure, often from lavish oak aging, especially in the Ribera del Duero. It has a characteristic strawberry flavor, along with cherry, olive, tobacco, cedar, and stewed meat notes.

Cune Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva, Rioja, (Spain)
Contino Reserva, Rioja (Spain)
Montecillo 130th Anniversary Limited Edition Gran Reserva, Rioja (Spain)
Montecillo Gran Reserva Seleccion Especial, Rioja (Spain)
Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva, Rioja (Spain)                               
Vega Sicilia Reserva Especial, Ribera del Duero (Spain)
Vega Sicilia Unico,  Ribera del Duero (Spain)
Emilio Moro Malleolus, Ribera del Duero (Spain)
Mauro Terreus, Pago de Cueva Baja, Ribera del Duero (Spain)
Pingus, Ribera del Duero (Spain)
Fournier A Crux Blend, Valley de Uco-Mendoza (Argentina)

Best Value
Bokisch Vineyards Tempranillo 2002, Lodi                          

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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