If Spain had a national grape, it would be the Tempranillo.
The country’s dry soil concentrates lovely strawberry and cherry aromas as the hot sun thickens the grape’s skin, enabling Tempranillo (pronounced temp-ruh-NEE-oh) to capture the sunny flavors of Spain like nothing else.
Taken from the Spanish wordtemprano, meaning early, the grape tends to ripen quickly on the vine. As such, much of Spain’s Tempranillo is planted in the northern regions of Toro, Ribera del Duero and Rioja, where the days are warm but cooler nights allow the grapes to hang on the vine longer while keeping acidity high. Though the vine can tolerate heat, the grape’s distinct red fruit and leather flavors fully ripen in cooler climates.
Tempranillo may be bottled as a single grape variety or blended with other grapes. Wines crafted from 100 percent Tempranillo are medium-bodied with moderate levels of alcohol and crisp acidity, making it a fantastic food wine that pairs easily with most dishes. The grape’s natural affinity for aging in American oak provides a rich vanilla spice.
Tempranillo is a good all-purpose wine for the table and large gatherings. While the grape is not as big and bold as a Cabernet Sauvignon, it is definitely not a pushover.
In Ribera del Duero, the grape is often blended with Garnacha. Higher elevation and sunshine give the reds of Ribera del Duero an extra boost of tannin and alcohol, making them beefier and age-worthy. In Rioja, blends of Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano are often aged in oak barrels for several years to soften the wine and make it more approachable.
Spanish labeling laws make buying the right wine easy. “Joven” on the label means little or no oak, so the wines are fruity. “Crianza,” “Reserva” and “Gran Reserva” spend progressively more years in oak and bottle, picking up a rustic, leathery edge along the way.
Given the wide variety of wines, you can be sure that Spain has a Tempranillo styled just for you.
Marianne Frantz, founder of the Cleveland Wine School, was joined by Cellar Door Tasting Consultants in selecting and sampling wines for this month’s Cellar Notes.
2005 Realeza, Castilla y León ($10): Bright cherry and raspberry aromas with loads of vanilla spice. Medium-bodied with good balance. Perfect recession-proof wine that goes well with carryout or can be made into spring Sangria by adding fruit and sparkling water.
2005 Bodegas Finca Luzon Altos de Luzon, Jumilla ($20): Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Monastrell (Mourvedre in France) provide ripe aromas of plums, black fruits and brown spices that fill the palate. Medium acidity and alcohol coupled with a long finish make it a great value for the price.
2005 Emilio Moro, Ribera del Deuro ($40): Macerated on the skins for three weeks, this wine is dark purple with a complex bouquet of wood, smoke, toast and ripe black fruit. Sip with roasted meat and semihard cheese after dinner.
2005 Sierra Cantabria Crianza, Rioja ($20): Lovelystrawberry, violet and vanilla aromas. Medium-bodied with mouth-warming alcohol, crisp acidity and balanced cherry fruit flavors makes it great for sipping with grilled or roasted meats.
2004 Marqués de Riscal Reserva, Rioja ($23): A blend of three grapes — Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo — this wine spends two years in American oak. Ripe cherry fruit and spices are balanced by soft tannins, crisp acidity and moderate alcohol, resulting in a long, pleasant finish. Sip alone or with grilled meats.
2004 Castillo Labastida Crianza, Rioja ($18): Ripe cherry, spice and leather aromas with a hint of toasty oak provide a long, lingering finish. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and moderate alcohol. Good value wine.