Tempranillo (tem-pran-KNEE-oh)

Spain’s most famous red grape, tempranillo, makes a huge range of wine styles depending on where it is grown in Spain—and it’s grown in dozens of places. Tempranillo is, for example, the main grape in the country’s famous wine region of Rioja. Traditionally-styled Rioja can resemble red Burgundy (pinot noir) in its refinement, earthiness, and complexity. At the same time, tempranillo is also the grape that makes blockbuster dense reds like tinta del Toro of the Toro region and the tinta del pais of Ribera del Duero. In short, various clones of tempranillo have, over time, adapted to Spain’s diverse regions, and the wines that have resulted often have such highly differentiated characters they almost seem like separate varieties. Indeed, tempranillo has a slew of different names in Spain, including ull de llebre (“eye of the hare”), cencibel, tinto aragónez, and escobera in addition to those named above. Only one probable parent of tempranillo has been identified—the grape variety albillo mayor which today grows in Ribera del Duero. That said, tempranillo itself is thought to have originated somewhere in the provinces of Rioja and Navarra in northern Spain. Tempranillo is usually well structured and well balanced. Its significant amount of tannin allows it to age for long periods, though the wine is generally not as firm on the palate as cabernet sauvignon. Tempranillo’s good amount of acidity gives the wines made from it a sense of precision, yet tempranillo is not as high in acidity as pinot noir. When young, tempranillo’s flavors are a burst of cherries. After aging, the wine tends to take on a deep, complex earthiness. Tempranillo also grows in Portugal, where it’s known as tinta roriz and is one of the grapes that make up Port. Additionally, the grape is grown in Argentina and in California.

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