Varietal Article


Last edited on 3/24/2012 by Eric
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Varietal character (Appellation America) | TAPAS: Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society

Tempranillo is the premium red wine grape variety from the Rioja and Ribera del Duero region in Spain. Tempranillo's aromas and flavors often combine elements of berryish fruit, herbaceousness, and an earthy-leathery minerality. Being low in acidity and sugar content, it is commonly blended with Carignan (Mazuela), Grenache (Garnacha), Graciano, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The varietal is at its best in top Riojas, where oak aging is employed to generate increased complexity and harmony. From the best sites, these wines can be remarkably concentrated with great aging potential. New wines from this region are darker, and more robust, with more dynamic primary fruit flavors than traditionally styled examples. These wines seem to reflect the influence of Spain's other key region for Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero. Regardless of style, Riojas tend to be medium bodied wines, with more acid than tannins. These wines generally feature Tempranillo blended with Garancha, Mazuelo, and Graciano. For these wines, there are three quality levels, which will appear on the label. Everyday drinking wines fall under the category of "Crianza", "Reserva" denotes more complex and concentrated wines, and "Gran Reserva" refers to the most intense wines, made only in the best years.

The same labeling scheme applies to wines from Ribera del Duero, which, like Rioja, is dominated by Tempranillo and shares similar blending grapes. Again, Ribera del Duero wines are generally darker and more powerful than the most traditional Riojas. These wines also generally see less oak treatment than Riojas. From Rioja, we like wines from Allende, Marqués de Cáceres, Montecillo, and Cune. In Ribera del Duero, consider Dominio de Pingus, Emilio Moro, Convento San Francisco, and Pesquera.
Pair older-style Rioja with simple meats like chicken, leg of lamb, and pork loin. However, the newer style of Rioja and Ribera del Duero works especially well with bolder meat dishes or an aged Spanish cheese like Manchego or Idiazabal.