The name Tempranillo, meaning early, relates to the early ripening nature of the variety. It is one of the first varieties to be picked at harvest.
This is an incredibly fruity grape variety that can be produced in a wide number of ways. The variety suits oak ageing as the vanilla notes bring out the plum and cherry flavours.
There is also a white mutation called Tempranillo Blanco which is permitted for white Rioja wines.
Common flavours fruit include strawberry, plums, fig and cherry. The flavours are very dependent on how the wine was produced. Oak ageing, using both French and American barrels, can add toasted cedar and vanilla flavours that balance well with the fruit profile. In Rioja Reserva and Gran Reserva wine can have wonderful leather, tobacco, cloves, dark chocolate and liquorice notes. Typically, the structure of the wine is medium. Medium body, tannins, acid and acidity. However, some examples can be higher especially in warmer sites.
This is the most planted grape variety in Rioja, especially in Rioja Alta and Alavesa. In Rioja Baja Grenache is the most popular. It is used for all ageing levels; Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva and is commonly oak aged as this brings out the best of both the flavour and structure of Tempranillo.
Ribera del Duero
Here Tempranillo is better known as Tinto Fino
The Ribera del Duero is located in Castilla y Leon, south-west of Rioja. It surrounds the famous Douro River and this feature brings numerous types of soils and aspects. Tempranillo is the most important grape variety here. The wines are generally big, bold and highly textured. Oak ageing is very common. Tinto Fino must be at least 75% of the blend to be awarded Ribera del Duero DO status but in reality, plantings are over 95%.
Tempranillo is better known as Cencibel here.
Once renowned for its low end, poor quality mass produced wines, La Mancha is now beginning to make more of a name for itself. Tempranillo is popular here and creates fruity wines.
In the Penedès region in Catalonia, northeast Spain it is known as Ull de Llebre.
Douro Valley. Here is it known as Tinta Roriz and is used in the production for both Port and still red wine. It produces the best fruit at higher altitude further from the Douro River which cuts through the valley. In Port production, the long ageing periods develop wonderful complex, deep flavours with prices to match.
It is also widely grown in with Alentejo and Dão where it is used for a range of wines, from fruity table wine to some serious, oak-aged reds.
When Tempranillo first arrived in California it was under the Valdepeñas name. It is not yet widely planted but getting some very good attention. Premium producers are using new oak to bring out the flavours and structure of the wine. It is also grown in Oregon and Washington State.
A relatively popular grape variety with a growing fan base, however, it still falls short behind the world-renowned Malbec. The majority of plantings are in Mendoza.
Again, Australia has found room for another interesting variety and making some brilliant wines from it. It is best known for plantings in the Margaret River, Adelaide Hills, Heathcote and the McLaren Vale