Tempranillo has just officially become the most planted grape variety in Spain, at least in terms of hectares of planted vineyard, an event deserving some reflection and some cheerful tasting. It beat out the Airen white grape in the race to the top. Airen had been number one for a long time.
The Spanish government says the varieties that have been planted the most since 2000 are Tempranillo and Garnacha Tintorera, followed by Verdejo and Syrah. Airen, joins Bobal and Monastrell as the ones that decreased the most. Currently, out of total vineyard plantings of 945,578 hectares, 202,917 belong to Tempranillo.
Some may be surprised that Tempranillo wasn’t already numero uno, since it originates Spain’s best red wines from regions like Rioja and Ribera del Duero. When you buy white wine online, though, Airen is likely not a consideration. It’s mostly grown in central Spain to produce unremarkable wines for distillation into brandy. But Tempranillo has clearly become a favorite of wine growers across the Iberian peninsula and well beyond. It’s used to make Port, for example, and it has a host of names depending on location: Cencibel, Tinto Fino, Tinto Madrid, Grenache de Logroño, Tinto de la Rioja, Tinto de Toro, Jacivera, Tempranilla, Ull de Llebre, and Tinto de Santiago among them.
For lovers of Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, or Sangiovese from Italy, it’s well worth exploring Tempranillo wines, and its different styles from different places, which goes well beyond Spain, though Spanish wines are the best place to start. It’s the core red wine grape of both Rioja and Ribera. Traditionally, these wines prominently feature oak ageing, though over the last decade or so Spanish winemakers have experimented with a fruitier style. Toro is another Spanish region that makes excellent wine from this grape. It adapts well to different soils and microclimates, to produce wines that are unmistakable and distinctive. A continental climate combined with a higher altitude and, therefore, colder, brings out the best of this varietal; these are the right conditions for a grape variety that ripens early (temprano means early).
At its best, this grape makes very elegant, structured wines with fine even velvety tannins, and it can age for very long periods with corresponding flavor development. Fine Tempranillo wines are all about balancing more earthy, dark prune, tobacco, and leathery flavors with brighter ripe cherry, plum, and possibly raspberry and rose petal notes. Vanilla from oak is often present. A quality, traditional Spanish Rioja can be described as medium to full-bodied, with aromas and flavors of leather, red cherries, tobacco, spices, and a touch of earth. However, a Tempranillo from a New World region such as Argentina, the United States or Australia will tend to have more pronounced dark red fruit flavors and more body, with stronger tannins. “Tempranillo wines from New World regions, including Argentina, Mexico, and the United States,” says Wine Follly, “generally offer more fruit flavors like cherry and tomato-sauce, followed by chunky tannins and less earthy notes.” Wines typically have a purplish color.
New World winemakers began trying to produce wines with finesse out of Tempranillio starting early this century, including in the Pacific Northwest and California. The 2016 Spann Vineyards Lake Family Tempranillo, a California wine from Clarksburg, for example, spent 34 months in older oak barrels (to help smooth out the tannins) and “tastes like warm cherry pie with a touch of brown sugar, yet without the sweetness.” You can order wine online to compare this New World wine with some Old World examples. The 2018 Bodegas Ordonez Triton Tinta de Toro, is made from extremely old vines in the only Spanish D.O. that completely resisted the phylloxera plague. This wine is powerful, elegant, and features unusual mineral expression along with red fruit aromas. The 2009 Dehesa de Los Canonigos Solideo Reserva is from Ribera, where they blended in Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose you will encounter flower petals, ripe red berries and spices. As a 2009 wine with oak ageing, you will find it very polished with fully-resolved tannins giving a silky mouthfeel.
Lots of Tempranillo wines can be found in the online wine store for wine delivery USA-wide.
Written By: - Charlie Leary