Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Happy Tempranillo Day!

Tempranillo, also known as Tinta del País, Tinto Fino,Tinta del Toro, Cencibel, Ull de Llebre, or Tinta Roriz/Aragonez (in Portugal), is the most important Spanish contribution to the wine world. Tempranillo is also kind of an underdog, mostly because in Europe, grapes are not listed on the labels, so you  probably had a Rioja, or Toro wine and not know that Tempranillo is the grape in these appellations. However, in the last 20 years or so, this is fast changing, not only Spanish wines got their truly deserved recognition, but more and more producers are experimenting with plantings of Tempranillo in places like Australia, California,Oregon and Argentina. 

But for me the greatness of Tempranillo comes only from Spain, where it is the key ingredient in many of its appellations: Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro are probably the most important ones. Differences in terroir, altitude and climate create three expressions of Tempranillo, showing how versatile this grape can be. Rioja produces the lightest and most elegant style, though we can find some beefy samples here too, followed by Ribera Del Duero and then Toro. Alcohol levels will vary, reaching in Rioja (12-13%) a bit higher in Ribera (up to 13.5) and highest in Toro (13.5-14%).

Rioja was the first appellation to make Tempranillo famous, inspired by the winemaking style of Bordeaux, Rioja wines are also blends, though some producers make also 100% Tempranillo wines. Like in Bordeaux, Riojas are aged in a bordelais size barrel (225 lt). For many years, American oak was the favorite choice, nowadays a lot of producers are also ageing in new French oak. In Portugal, where it is known as Tinta del Roriz, Tempranillo is a key ingredient in all Port blends, but there are very good dry wines made in Alentejo and Douro. 
Tempranillo’s name comes from the word Temprano (early in Spanish), because the grape ripens early and buds late, it has a short growing season. It does best in a warmish climate with cool nights (like in Rioja and Ribera del Duero) that will boost its elegance and its natural acidity, but at the same time, sunny days will ripen the grapes to get the alcohol and fruit extract needed to make extraordinary wine. Altitude has an important role to play here, in Ribera del Duero, we find vineyards at 850 m, in Toro vineyards at 600-750 m and in Rioja vineyards at 500-600 m, it's no surprise, why Tempranillo does so well in all 3 locations. 

It grows in different soils, but likes limestone and chalk best, yielding elegant wines and clay will give wines with plenty of body. In Toro there are alluvial soils with limestone and schist soils in the Douro, Portugal.  It can be very vigorous so yields must be kept low; in Spain the usual is 45-50 hl/ht or less. In the New World yields are usually higher, making more diluted/ simple wines. Though there are many varietal wines, Tempranillo is usually blended with other grapes: Mazuelo, Graciano and Garnacha in Rioja, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot or Garnacha in Ribera del Duero and Penedès. 

Tempranillo is very versatile and can produce a range of wines, and styles that fall between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Indeed, it will produce light, fruity, everyday wines but also massive, inky and concentrated ones. Because of its resistance to oxidation it can age in oak for a very long time, this will allow the wine to acquire a mature,  earthy and very interesting character in barrel and bottle. By law, Rioja and Ribera del Duero Crianzas are aged for a year in oak and 1 in bottle. Reservas are aged for 3 years, 1 in oak and 2 in bottles and Gran Reservas are aged for 6 years, 2 in oak and 4 in bottle. These are the minimums, meaning some wineries will choose a much longer aging. This also means that the wines will be ready to drink at the time they are sold in the market, without any necessary waiting from the consumers.

From a style point of view, Riojas are elegant with medium alcohol showing delicious red fruits and balanced tannins (it is definitely less tannic than Cabernet, but Tempranillo wines do have structure). I define Ribera del Duero as Tempranillo on vitamins, since they tend to have bigger bodies than Riojas and plenty of black fruit aromas, and then the wines from Toro are possible the biggest expression of Tempranillo, powerful and concentrated.

Tempranillo's profile will feature strawberry,raspberry, red cherry in cool climates,  blackberry, black cherry and plums from warmer climates, with age it will show tobacco, cocoa, coffee, leather and bacon notes. 

Young wines and crianzas should be consumed young, three years from their release.  Reservas can age 5-10 years from release and Gran Reservas can really age, up 30+ years. I recently tasted a Rioja Gran Reserva from 1989 and Wow, it was a life changing experience! (it was the Faustino I).

When drinking Reservas and Gran Reservas always look at the colors and rims of these wines, you will see how different they are from young wines, usually featuring brick/orange colors. The wines may also be paler, garnet instead of ruby and in some cases brick red, all of this happens as a result of the extra aging both in oak and bottle.

Recommended Producers:
Rioja: Artadi, Muga, Marqués de Murrieta, Roda, Cune, Remírez de Ganuza, Finca Allende,  Marqués de Riscal, Senorío de San Vicente, López de Heredia, Remelluri, Marqués de Cáceres, Faustino.
Ribera del Duero: Pesquera, Pingus, Vega Sicilia, Alión, Abadia Retuerta, Bodegas Mauro,Emilio Moro, Dominio de Atauta, Hacienda Monasterio.
Toro: Numanthia,Maurodos, Elías Mora, Teso La Monja, San Román, Campo Eliseo, Pintia, Telmo Rodríguez, Rejadorada.

Happy#TempranilloDay. Cheers! Silvina. 

pic of Tempranillo Grapes provided by D.O.Ca. Rioja. Thank you!

For more Tempranillo recommendations, follow me on Instagram @silvinalawina.