Friday, February 8, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Tempranillo

This week, we're taking a look at one of Spain's best-know grape varietals: Tempranillo

A Spanish wine enthusiast once confided to me, "I'm so tired of Tempranillo. Maybe it's different for North Americans, but here in Spain, it's everywhere." Indeed, Tempranillo seems to be the most ubiquitous Spanish grape and, from the southern La Mancha to the northern Ribera del Duero  (not to be confused with Duoro in Portugal), there are few places in the country where Tempranillo can't be found. It is the main grape varietal of Rioja, where it is used in the entire gamut of the region's wines, from Joven to Gran Reserva. Tempranillo sold as Joven (young) wine is often fruity and easy to drink, whereas Crianzas, Reservas and Gran Reservas spend progressively more time in barrells (a minimum of 18 months in oak for Gran Reserva wines), making them more tannic and aggressive.

As with most grapes, Tempranillo grows best in high altitudes, but the grape's thick skin allows it to thrive in both hot and cool regions. In addition to Spain, Tempranillo can also be found Portugal, where it is often called Tinto Roriz and used for making port as well as regular still wine, Australia, where it is often mixed with Grenache and Shiraz, and even in Southern France, where it can be found in both blends and pure form. Because of the grape's low acidity and low sugar content, most winemakers prefer to blend it with other varietals, although some non-blended Tempranillo wines are available from a large number of regions.

Tempranillo usually has an attractive ruby-red colour, making it a great wine for a romantic occasion. It has aromas of berries, plums, tobacco and even leather. In hotter climates, it is often used to produce 'rustic' wines, which have intense earthy flavours and deep red colours. When put in oak, Tempranillo wines often develop strong tannins and vanilla or spice flavours, particularly if the oak is 'toasted' (heated over an open fire). Young and unoaked Tempranillo wines can be drunk on their own or paired with beef, pork, or even chicken, while older, oaked Temrpanillos are best left for steaks, wild game, lamb or stew. Whether you're serving a formal dinner for twelve or just opening up a bottle to accompany a chilly winter evening, Tempranillo is unlikely to disappoint.

The Short Version:

Names: Tinta Roriz, ValdepeƱas, Tinta Fina, Tinta del Pais. 
Flavour Profile (Oaked): Earthy, with vanilla and spices and a strong tannins.  
Flavour Profile (Unoaked): Fruity, with aromas of berries, plums and leather. 
Best-Known Regions: Spain, Portugal, California, Australia
Price Range: $10-$70
Food Pairings: Chicken, pork, beef, steak, stew

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