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The Tempranillo Grape

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About Tempranillo

(Synonyms: Albillo Negro, Aldepenas, Aragon, Aragones, Aragonez, Aragonez 51, Aragonez da Ferra, Aragonez de Elvas, Arganda, Arinto Tinto, Cencibel, Cencibera, Chinchillana, Chinchillano, Chinchilyano, Cupani, De Por Aca, Escobera, Garnacho Fono, Grenache de Logrono, Jacibera, Jacibiera, Jacivera, Juan Garcia, Negra de Mesa, Negretto, Ojo de Liebre, Olho de Lebre, Pinuela, Sensibel, Tempranilla, Tempranillo de la Rioja, Tempranillo de Perralta, Tempranillo de Rioja, Tempranillo de Rioza, Tempranillo Rioja, Tinta Aragones, Tinta Corriente, Tinta de Madrid, Tinta de Santiago, Tinta de Toro, Tinta do Inacio, Tinta do Pais, Tinta Fina, Tinta Madrid, Tinta Monteira, Tinta Monteiro, Tinta Roris, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Santiago, Tinto Aragon, Tinto Aragonez, Tinto de la Ribera, Tinto de Madrid, Tinto de Rioja, Tinto de Toro, Tinto del Pais, Tinto del Toro, Tinto Fino, Tinto Madrid, Tinto Pais, Tinto Ribiera, Tinto Riojano, Ull de Liebre, Ull de Llebre, Valdepenas, Verdiell, Vid de Aranda)


Tempranillo grapes Map showing the Iberian peninsula

Tempranillo is a red-wine grape originating millennia ago in the Iberian peninsula (today comprising Portugal and Spain). It is generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class red-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page). Today, it is still a major grape in its homeland, but is also planted in nontrivial amounts in many other wine-making regions globally. It is often described as the signature grape of Spain, which may be an exaggeration.

As with almost all wines of the Old World, monovarietal bottlings were traditionally rare; Tempranillo, however, has often been a dominant element in those regionally named blends in which it appears. Tempranillo wines are typically somewhat low in both sugar and acid, which is why other varieties are often blended with it. In the modern world, however, with emphasis shifting (especially in the New World) from regions to specific varietals, monovarietal bottlings are more common than formerly.

Tempranillo does not do well in hot climates, which is why it has long been cultivated mainly in the northern regions of Spain and Portugal. The main Spanish appellations for Tempranillo-based wines are Rioja and Ribera del Duero, though with the varietal's increasing popularity, plantings elsewhere in Spain are appearing. In Portugal, it is not quite as major a player, but participates in the wines of central Alentejo and Douro. In the U.S., Tempranillo is emerging as the signature grape of the rapidly developing Texas wine industry; it is also grown in the usual other places, California, Oregon, and Washington State. Extensive plantings also exist in the wine-making countries of South America, Argentina and Chile, as well as in the emerging Mexican wine arena.

Tempranillo wines are typically quite dark in color. Its aromas and tastes are those of a major red wine: berry, tobacco, leather, vanilla, herb. Blends tend to make wines that are intended to be somewhat more fruity.

To quote Elizabeth Schneider, "Though most places in Europe focus on terroir or the soil and the flavor that derives from the vineyard, Rioja is more about the process of making it — the grapes used and how long the wine stays in a barrel determines quality." Spanish Tempranillo wines have labelling that describes how the wnes were treated, which is usually a good clue to how well the vintner thought of them. Those are:

  • Joven: aged up to 12 months in oak; meant to be drunk young, and so essentially "lightweight" in all senses (though still satisfying).

  • Crianza: aged at least one year in oak (typically 1 to 1½ years) and at least one more year in bottle; what one might call "basic" Tempranillo, the everyday wine in its homeland, and often an excellent bargain.

  • Reserva: aged at least a year in oak (typically 1½ to 2 years) and at least 2 more years in bottle; these tend to be bigger and darker and more complex wines—"A Friday night wine" as Ms. Schneider puts it. Good bargains are still possible.

  • Gran Reserva: aged at least 24 months in oak and at least 36 more months in bottle; these are what the winemaker thinks are his best Tempranillos, and a Gran Reserva at any sort of civilized price is a good (and unusual) buy indeed.

Factoid: Tempranillo appeared in Iberia in the time of the Phoenician colonies there; the Phoenicians spread winemaking knowledge throughout their expansive culture.

Some Descriptions of Tempranillo Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Tempranillo wines are ruby red in colour, while aromas and flavours can include berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather and herb. Often making up as much as 90% of a blend, Tempranillo is less frequently bottled as a single varietal. Being low in both acidity and sugar content, it is most commonly blended with Grenache (known as Garnacha in Spain), Carignan (known as Mazuela in Spain), Graciano, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Blending the grape with Carignan makes a brighter and more acidic wine."

  • Jancis Robinson
    [This entire article is recommended reading.]

    "Tempranillo is best known as the dominant grape of red rioja, Spain's most famous wine. To make a parallel with the most celebrated blended red wine in the world, red bordeaux, Tempranillo plays the Cabernet Sauvignon part while the much juicier, fruitier Garnacha (known in France as Grenache) plays the role of plumper blending partner Merlot. Tempranillo provides the framework and ageing ability, together with the predominant flavour, while Garnacha adds weight. Mazuelo (Carignan) and the much finer Graciano (Morrastel) are also allowed in a Rioja blend. Until the 1990s most red rioja tasted more of oak than grapes. The traditional way of making rioja - ageing for years and years in small, vanilla-scented American oak barrels - disguised Tempranillo's own flavour. But since bodegas in Rioja have seriously begun to age their wines for much shorter periods in French oak, and also to export young (Joven) unoaked wines, wine lovers the world over have started to come to grips with the essence of Tempranillo itself. The flavour of Tempranillo is essentially savoury rather than sweet. The characteristic smell has hints of leather but the phrase I use most often to describe it is 'fresh tobacco leaves' - even though, as is so often the case with these useful 'trigger words', I am not at all sure I have ever actually smelt fresh tobacco leaves themselves. There is something sappy, fresh and vegetal about it, but also something definitively masculine, the sort of smells you would expect to find in a stereotypical man's dressing room - which is, I suppose, where the leather comes in."

  • Wine Access

    "Tempranillo, arguably the most famous of Spain's native grapes, is a vibrant, aromatic varietal that offers spicy, red fruit aromas and flavors. . . 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. . . In Portugal, Tempranillo is called Tinta Roriz, where it is used to produce wines that are fragrant and complex, with good color, body, backbone, and resistance to oxidation despite possessing only moderate acidity. The second most widely planted variety in the Douro region of Portugal, it is increasingly popular as a stand-alone variety for dry red wines."

  • Wine Folly

    "When you first taste a Spanish Tempranillo you’ll get hit with the flavor of leather a long with cherries. The finish is mild, smooth and lingers with tannin on both sides of your mouth. American and other New World Tempranillo delivers tons of cherry and tomato-sauce flavors followed by chunky tannin. Tempranillo is technically a medium-bodied wine with red fruit characteristics. If you’ve never tried Tempranillo before you’ll find it tastes similar to Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tempranillo does taste full-bodied on good vintages with the addition of new-oak aging. However, it has thinner skins and larger grapes than Syrah so when you look at it in a glass, it will be more translucent. Because of the style of traditional oak aging in Spain, Tempranillo often has a ruddy-orange hue. While the flavor is big, the texture is usually not oily or thick."

  • Wine Searcher

    "A thick-skinned variety with a high anthocyanin count that makes for deep-colored wines with moderate tannins . . . While it lacks its own idiosyncratic flavor profile, the wide range of aromas detectable in Tempranillo-based wines give it a charm in and of itself, with tasting notes ranging from strawberries, blackcurrants and cherries, to prunes, chocolate and tobacco. The former three notes typically come from younger examples from cooler climates, while the latter three develop with increased vineyard heat and age. Oak and Tempranillo certainly marry well together. American oak in particular is the traditional choice of winemakers in Rioja, and Tempranillo’s flavor profile integrates beautifully with the vanilla and coconut notes imparted by new oak barrels. Further west in Ribera del Duero, the fashion is to use higher proportions of French and used oak barrels to allow Tempranillo’s fruit to shine with a focus on more spiced oak flavors. As time passes the two styles are consolidating and the consumer is being rewarded with wines of greater complexity. Tempranillo grapes are not known for their naturally high acidity, and it is all too easy to find flat, overblown Tempranillo from [hot, dry areas]."

  • Imbibe Magazine

    "In the last couple of decades, a new generation of producers in Spain has been tinkering with the old ways, kicking the blending grapes to the curb and going straight-up with Tempranillo-centric versions and using French oak (prior, the Spanish—and many fans of Rioja to this day—preferred the effects of American oak on the grape), or a combination of both French and American, for aging, and some of that can be credited to the discovery of the charm of Spanish wines outside of Spain, with Tempranillo’s popularity breaking through."

  • Total Wine

    "This versatile grape is capable of yielding big, full-bodied reds with firm tannins and loads of complexity to very light and easy-drinking wine with light tannins. Typically Tempranillo yields red wines with red-fruit flavors, which include cherry and ripe strawberry with rustic nuances of leather and earth. With substantial oak aging such as the Gran Reservas of Rioja, Tempranillo produces elegant and complex wine with multifaceted layers of flavors."

  • Professonal Friends of Wine

    "Tempranillo aromas and flavors often combine elements of subtle berry-like fruit, herbaceousness, an earthy-leathery character (which is sometimes mistaken sensorially for Brettanomyces), and good minerality. While its varietal character can be distinctive, it is also somewhat vague and easily overpowered by oak. Not often bottled as a stand-alone varietal, but frequently used as the base variety in blends, its most frequent mates are grenache, (aka garnacha in Spain), carignan (aka mazuelo in Spain's Rioja region) and, more recently, cabernet sauvignon."

  • Seattle Magazine

    "When judging a wine in single-blind tastings—meaning we knew the variety, but not the producer—it is important to look for "varietal character". With Old World Tempranillo, that means savory notes of leather and dried herbs, tobacco leaf and subtle red fruits. But in Washington, we get much more fruit, and when you add oak-barrel aging to that, the wine may be much different than its Old World counterpart, full of raspberry and plum, herbs and vanilla, with a brighter acidity than in the hottest areas of Spain."

  • Tim Atkin, M.W.

    "This doesn’t mean that Tempranillo produces a single style of wine. In weight and structure, it can vary from a light, strawberryish, tapas-bar quaffer (the sort of thing my beret-sporting friends in Cenicero might drink) to a dark, sturdy, tannic red that will age for half a lifetime. That said, the structured stuff is rarer. The wines of Ribera del Duero, Toro and a few of the new style are your best bets if you want to try a denser style. In the main, Tempranillo makes soft, comparatively approachable reds with medium acidity and tannin levels and a core of sweet fruit. This may explain why it is frequently blended with Cabernet Sauvignon (in Navarra and Somontano) or a combination of Graciano, Mazuelo and Garnacha (in Rioja). Some tasters find a certain similarity with Pinot Noir, as Rioja, like Burgundy’s great grape, can develop gamey, forest-floor notes with age (Gran Reserva Riojas often display these characters). When young, it has notes of red fruits, blackberries and blackcurrants. The other flavour that is commonly associated with Tempranillo is oak, be it French or the more assertive vanilla-and-coconut-perfumed American barrels. Indeed, for many people, Rioja and the smell and taste of American oak are interchangeable. Not all Tempranillo is aged in oak (sin crianza and joven styles see little or no wood), but the grape does seem to have a natural affinity with barrels."

  • Wines for Normal People

    "I love Ribera del Duero. It’s like Rioja on steroids. The wines are usually 100% Tempranillo, but unlike the calmer wines of Rioja, this region’s crazy location and climate produce a ballsy, intense wine with no shortage of acid, tannin, or fruit. The wines are intense, but I love them because they are powerful in a very European way — lots of texture, some earthiness, and layers of "other stuff" besides fruit to analyze. Like many of the wines from Europe, they are shy-er than California wines, but Ribera del Duero is no wimp."

Some Tempranillos to Try

(About this list.)

At least in the Rioja appellation, whence much Spanish Tempranillo, there is now a significant divide between wineries making Tempranillo in a "traditional" manner and those making it in a "modern" manner, which some might call "internationalized" (though quality is reportedly up now in the modern style). We have included three "traditional" Riojas, all from the same large, well-respected winery, so you can, if you like, taste both a Crianza and a Reserva from the same place, and/or taste two different Crianzas from one maker. We also included a couple of "modern" Riojas, and a couple of examples of Ribera del Duero Tempranillos (the second major Spanish Tempranillo region, reportedly making wines a little stronger than Rioja). And we included single samples of what's going on in the U.S.: one each from California, Oregon, Washington State, and Texas.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE) Cune Crianza, $10 - $17.
    (Spain, Rioja, "traditional", c. 80% Tempranillo, blend may vary with vintage year)
         ($9.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Color: A little brown around the edges from the age (red wine moves to an amber color with time). Smell: Raisins, dried cherry, dried apricot, and a healthy dose of vanilla smell from the oak. Taste: Oak, dried cherry, dried strawberry with great tannin and decent acid, it had major gusto. Drink or Sink?: Drink. For $15, this is complete winner. The wine was straight up classic Rioja. Spice, oak, dried fruit, good tannin — everything I expect from a Crianza.

    In the glass: Cune Crianza is a deep garnet-red color with a semi-opaque core going out into a fine, slightly tinged rim definition with high viscosity. On the nose: There is attractive bright red cherry fruit, jarred morrello cherries, stewed red currants, phenolic compounds, herbs de Provence, dusty minerals, cranberry liqueur and hints of American oak, materializing in sweet vanilla bean stalk, with just a touch of pepper and underlying spice box. On the palate: There is good, classic ripe-red fruit with typical Rioja character, meaning wild cherry, cranberry, red currant, with hints of herbs, minerals and slightly dryish tannins through the midpalate. The finish is quite lively with yet more red fruits, and the wine altogether seems very clean on the palate, giving off a fruit-driven characteristic that is pleasing when paired with food.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (August 2012), 88 points

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September 2012), 88 points

    Another good buy, the 2009 Rioja Cvne Crianza (80% Tempranillo and the rest other authorized varietals) exhibits a dark ruby/purple color, loads of fruit (black currants and cherries), licorice and forest floor notes, a supple texture, medium body, and considerable flavor authority as well as character.

    The wine displays a medium intensity cherry red colour making the appearance very appealing. On the nose, you get black and red fruit aroma like cherry and raspberry. The palate is fresh with full ripe fruit.

    It's a feel-good, fruity red, which with a bit of oomph to warm you up in a rainy moment and have your thoughts Mediterranean-bound. It's an effortlessly easy to drink (not like an alcopop) wine and an assuring mid-week comfort. Jam-packed with cherries and blueberries.

    My expectation fell from a great height and landed with sharp thud onto a featureless floor. I did not enjoy this wine, and at almost £8 it seems way overpriced. It was thin,dry and devoid of depth. . . Ok, so I agree with the 'bright cherry colour'....don't get me started on 'violets'. Perhaps unripe very dry 'red berries'...no discernable 'oaky and balsamic notes'. The only 'elegance' is the bottle's outfit, and there is little 'spice'. It is about as 'balanced' and playful as an empty seesaw. I could not finish the bottle. I even gave it a second whirl leaving it a day after opening. No improvement.

    This Rioja is a good example of modern wine making in Spain. 2010 Cune Rioja tastes of red cherries and vanilla – a flavour that come from the wine being aged in oak barrels.

    Red fruits, balsam, chocolate, heather in an open and gentle nose, nicely woody. The palate is spacious and gentle, with a long slow red cherry core fruit, cola, nut and a hit of heathery herb. Savoury, long and elegant.

    Smoky and gamy notes shadow cherry, floral and licorice flavors in this smooth red, displaying a rather austere character. Tobacco and toast notes linger on the finish. 87 points

    Crianzas are meant to be very accessible upon release with a good fruit character upfront and present. This CUNE Crianza fits that bill. There are noticeable flavors of plum, sweet berries, bubble gum, and a lite spiciness. The wine satisfies in a very straight forward way. It is not very complex or singularly memorable, but it does the job at a very reasonable price. It is a wine to be drunk without too much thought. RECOMMENDED

    2005 Cune Rioja Crianza gives bubblegum initially, then a little herbs and a tiny bit of cherry but that is it. The palate is tight, a bit of green, dark, slightly tannic wine. It’s got tobacco, a dark chocolate bit to it. Strange on the finish, all secondary flavours and smoky oak. 7/10

    Still plums but getting darker, more sweet spices and sweet vanilla; some secondary notes of leather, woody too. Fresh acidity on the palate; red fruit, plums and cherries; vibrancy about this, good fruit with a noticeable tannic grip at the end; everything is integrated and balanced. Nice expression. B+

    (100% tempranillo): Dark ruby. Aromas and flavors of raspberry and cherry, with a vanilla overtone. Silky and smooth, with a lingering finish of clove, mocha and vanilla. Easy-going and very drinkable right now.

    Nicely fresh and lively, mildly spiced cherry, raspberry with violets and a whiff of balsamic to it. I am appreciating crianzas more and more it seems because of their comparatively (likely inherent) lighter, playful characters. A bit straightforward and not very complex, but undeniably pleasing

  • Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE) Cune Reserva, $16 - $28.
    (Spain, Rioja, "traditional")
         ($22.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The 2004 Cune Rioja Reserva is a rich, raisiny wine. Vanilla sweetness coming through and a bit of toffee. Smoked cheese on the nose as well. Dark spice, my brain said "smoked cinnamon", despite never having ever sampled smoked cinnamon before! Dried cherries and a leafy finish. It’s got bundles of liquorice too, superb. 8.5/10

    The outstanding 2007 Rioja Cvne Reserva is a blend of 80% Tempranillo and the rest Grenache, Graciano and other varietals. Complex notes of roasted herbs, loamy soil, black currants, cherries and background oak emerge from this medium to full-bodied, fleshy, flamboyant, long, heady red. — 90 points.

    Very nice this. Velvety, round, ripe cherry, raspberry, hint of underlying blackberry, cedar, violets, very slight old leather, balsamic and very moderate oak spice notes. Has a vaguely rustic charm/feel to it. Healthy acidity makes this a nicely bright reserva. Moderate complexity and depth, notable freshness and balance.

    Reservas are less likely to be drunk over tapas, and more likely to maybe accompany a good meal, which usually comes pretty late in Spain! The Viña Real Reserva has a bit less overt fruit than the Crianza wine and a bit more in the way of wood spiciness. The wine is fairly dry with moderate tannins and decent acidity. There is a nice floral component and it would pair nicely with a good supper, but there is not a real defining character here that makes it stand out. No new oak used here according to Colin. RECOMMENDED

    CVNE must have done a strict selection in chilly, wet 2002 to get a reserva that’s this sound. The nose is a lovely, traditional blend of earth, leather, coffee, spicy wood and red fruits. The palate follows suit, showing raspberry, strawberry, plum and vanilla flavors. A great, understated wine from what was a forgettable year for most Rioja producers. 91 points.

    Good depth of colour here with an attractive spicy lift to the nose, together with some sweet fruit and herby complexity. On the palate there is a good density of savoury, chunky fruit with high acidity. Interesting in a traditional style, and good value. Very good+

  • Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE) Viña Real Rioja "Plata" Crianza, $12 - $32.
    (Spain, Rioja, "traditional", Tempranillo c. 90%, blend may vary with vintage year)
         ($13.24 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Rich and concentrated, with a scent of chestnut, this food-friendly red has a long, earth-and-mineral finish. . . [T]his 2009 CVNE Viña Real Rioja Crianza is a reminder of how much flavor and character Spain's traditional Riojas offer for affordable everyday drinking.

    I like this crianza; it has good brightness and finesse to it. The fruit, not overly concentrated or extracted, is clean and well-defined. Barely medium-bodied, the fruit is vibrant and glides on the palate. Cherry, raspberry with a bit of lightly spiced plum underneath; the wine’s oak is well-integrated and mildly toasty . This would be quite nice for eating none-too-heavy fare for sure – even seafood like seared scallops with risotto.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 91 points

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September/October 2012), 90 points

    Charcoal, red currant nose; light-medium bodied, tart red currant, charcoal palate; medium finish (87 pts.)

    Bright ruby-red. Cherry, redcurrant, tobacco and a hint of vanilla on the nose. Deep, sappy, open-knit red and dark berry flavors pick up floral pastille and smoke nuances with air. Finishes broad and smooth, with slow-mounting spiciness and gentle tannins. Quite elegant for the vintage [2009] and drinking nicely right now.

    [T]he 2008 Viña Real Plata Rioja Crianza ($16) is deeper and richer, with sappy dark berry and cherry flavors but a bit less vivacity. This latter wine works extremely well with full-flavored red meat dishes and also benefits from decanting.

    A touch murky and leafy at first, with vanilla and red fruit aromas. Runs crisp and tangy, with length, a lean structure and snappy pie cherry, red plum and vanilla flavors. Fresh and tight on the finish, with leftover juiciness. A good wine for tapas and basic salty foods. 87 points

  • Bodega Ontañón Crianza, $12 - $16.
    (Spain, Rioja, "modern"; 90% Tempranillo, blend may vary with vintage year)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Color: Crimson, similar to the Cosecha. Smell: All dark plums, blackberries, blueberries, dark cherries, and rich vanilla/cinnamon oak. Taste: Full, rich and powerful with mild tannin and acid that was in balance but present enough to hold up the fruit. Also like a Christmas tree — cinnamon, apple, plum, and wood with a little dried dirt flavor. Drink or Sink?: Another great wine. I loved the fruit and the unique flavors. The oak is noticeable but mild and the fruit really is the star. Balance and deliciousness. Totally unlike the traditional producers, but one of the best and most interesting reds I've had in a while.

    90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha. Dark coloured. Aromatic nose shows sweet dark fruits and a herbal, garrigue-like character. The palate has fresh berry and cherry fruit with a subtly minty, herbal character. Nicely savoury with some peppery notes. 90/100

    ♣ Wine Spectator (31 Aug 2012), 87 points

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September/October 2011), 87 points

    Bright violet. Tightly wound, slow-to-open nose hints at red berries and herbs. Taut, sharply focused flavors of bitter cherry and redcurrant, with a brisk note of white pepper adding energy. Finishes bright but a bit tart, with decent length and tangy bite. I'd have liked a bit more sweetness but this was a tough year.

    A blend of Tempranillo (90 per cent) and Garnacha. Dark cherry red in the glass. A lovely and rich nose with berry fruit, smoke, tangy, a little sweet, chocolate. Light weight, floral, rich raspberry and cherry fruit, good acidity, cedar, drying, red licorice, spicy, refreshing, slightly tart. Berry fruit, spicy, red licorice, drying on the long finish. A classy wine.

    A dusty cherry aroma turns harsh with airing, setting up a tight, acidic palate that’s marked by tart raspberry and plum flavors. Scouring, spicy and peppery on the finish, this amounts to a tight, hard and basic Rioja. 83 points

    This wine hails from the famous Rioja region in Spain where it is known for producing outstanding tempranillos. The Ontañon Rioja Crianza is made from 90% tempranillo grapes and 10% garnacha grapes and has been aged for at least two years with at least one of which was aged in oak. The nose of this wine smacks you in the face with ripe black cherries and wild berries. In the mouth it is full-bodied and lush with dark cherries, mineral overtones, spice, and very faint soft tannins with just a tiny hint of acidity. Yum….

  • Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza, $14 - $15.
    (Spain, Rioja, "modern"; c. 93% Tempranillo, blend may vary with vintage year)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Color: A light garnet and a little brownish but still kind of bright because the wine isn’t too old. Smell: This had some power. Licorice, with lots of spice from the oak — like nutmeg and allspice and Christmas-time. And black fruit — black cherries, black plums. Yum. Taste: Just like it smelled — licorice, plums, cherries, spice, with vanilla. And fresh from the acidity. Drink or Sink? Drink. For $12, this is great. I loved the complexity of flavor and the fact that it had a lot going on but was still light. Great wine.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (August 2012), 91 points

    The 2008 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza is a blend of 93% Tempranillo and 7% Garnacha aged for 18 months in French and American oak. It has a mellow bouquet of dried herbs, terracotta tiles and dusky black fruit that is very well-defined. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannin: tart red berried fruit, laced with tobacco and dried herbs on the dry, crisp finish. This is a superb classical Rioja Crianza.

    [Google-translated from Spanish:] The result is a wine of garnet color, clean, very pleasant to the nose, where fruit flavors stand out. The palate is soft, elegant, round and very easy to drink with a touch of wood in perfect harmony. A classic for keep.

    [Google-translated from Spanish:] Notable ripe cherry color trim high homogeneity in the layer. Aromas can say that wine is cutting new "Riojas" these aimed at a new line more fruity woody. The palate has a sweet tooth wood with a very pleasant taste. A base varietal tempranillo acidity adjusted with certain air of Rioja Alava is perceived. It has a pleasant aftertaste barrel that attenuates its astringency. Set which can be referred Round polished.

    Hot spice, toasty oak, plum and wild berry nose. Round, plump and succulent with grainy, integrated tannins. Classic fruit and oak mix which is warm and ripe.

    It has a deep red cherry colour with roof tile tones. Complex on the nose with aromas of ripe red fruit and liquorish combined with coffee, vanilla and balsamic nuances from barrel ageing. On the palate, it is a smooth and velvety wine with sweet and ripe tannins that make it a pleasant and easy-drinking wine with a long aftertaste.

  • Bodegas Penalba Lopez Finca Torremilanos Monte Castrillo, $10 - $30.
    (Spain, Ribera del Duero; 90% Tempranillo, blend may vary with vintage year)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Color: Rich plum tones highlight the rim, but this wine is a purple-black. Gorgeous. Smell: The aroma of the Monte Castrillo was so subtle but also so mouthwatering! It completely rocked. Raspberry, ripe black plum, and a touch of black pepper were noticeable, but kind of weaved in with a smell of a dusty country road. The earth, fruit, and spice together were so appetizing I could barely wait to taste it! Taste: Yum. The Monte Castrillo is like a tall, dark, and handsome man. Easy on the eyes, suave, yet strong and slightly brooding. . . To put it in wine terms, I think this wine is the perfect combination of softness, raspberry fruit flavor, spicy pepper, and dustiness with a great underlying note of stand-up tannin that saves it from being flabby or watery. The second wave of flavor is like a raspberry bramble — there’s a dried herbal mix that underlies the fruit and is unbelievably delicious.

    Opaque ruby. Powerful, spice-accented aromas of black and blue fruits and violet, with a subtle vanilla nuance building in the glass. Silky and broad, offering gently sweet blueberry and cherry flavors and a touch of bitter chocolate. Gently tannic on the finish, which leaves a spicy note behind. This is a an excellent value for the appellation.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 88 points

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (date unknown), 90 points

    ♣ Wine Spectator (date unknown), 87 points

    Finca Torrermilanos’ red wines begin with the 2009 Montecastrillo Roble, a blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in oak for 7 months and bottled without filtration . . . Deep purple in color as befits the vintage; it reveals an enticing perfume of Asian spices, incense, lavender, licorice, and blackberry. Dense on the palate with a bit of structure, this succulent, forward effort can be enjoyed now and over the next 6 years. It is an excellent value.

    Intensely aromatic with elegant herbal notes, black pepper and red fruits. Excellent blackcurrant coats the palate with firm tannins and spicy finish. 4/5 *

    Oak is apparent on the front end, where milk chocolate and vanilla aromas vie with red berry scents. Feels full and forward, with standard, appealing berry fruit and cassis-like flavors. Toasty and a touch bitter on what amounts to a solid finish. 87 points.

    This wine from Spain’s Ribera Del Duero is a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a food-friendly red with fruity aromas, a smooth body and earthy, herbal, cherry flavors.

    With notes of black cherry, cocoa, and plum. Score of 87.

    This is a fun wine, with cherry and plum flavors and grippy tannins that testify to oak aging. But the wood is well integrated. Very Good to Excellent.

  • Bodegas Hornillos Ballesteros Mibal Tinto Ribera del Duero Joven, $13 - $27.
    (Spain, Ribera del Duero)
         ($13.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    This 100% Tinto Fino (aka Tempranillo) ages for about 12 months in French oak and exudes aromas of mineral, spice, blackberry, and licorice. Additionally, on the palate one finds leather and layered sweet fruits. This wonderfully complex wine retails for approximately $15-20 and should also benefit from some bottle aging. You may not be willing to wait. Just as well – it drinks great now. Enjoy!

    This garnet colored Tempranillo opens with a raspberry bouquet with a hint of sour cherries. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, balanced, approachable, and easy to drink. The flavor profile is a slightly tart raspberry with notes of black cherry, minerals, and a touch of oak. The finish is dry and its moderate tannins stick around for a little bit.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 92 points

    A glass-coating opaque purple color, the wine’s aromatics need to be coaxed from the glass, a demonstration of this wine’s youth [2004 vintage in 2007]. On the palate the raw materials are there, densely packed and tightly wound. The ripe black fruit flavors are still undeveloped but very promising. All of the components are in harmony needing only 4-6 years in bottle to strut their stuff. It is hard to believe that so little money can buy so much wine. If I were a young collector unable to afford Bordeaux or boutique Cabernet, I’d be buying the 2004 Mibal by the case. A true "garage" Bodegas (the winery is in a garage in the town of Roa), these small production cuvees of 100% Tempranillo are uniformly outstanding.

    Made exclusively from Tempranillo aged without benefit of oak barrels, the Mibal Tinto shows the incredible depth of fruit flavors interwoven with minerality that Tempranillo planted in the soils of Ribera del Duero can produce. Try it the next time you grill a steak. 91 points

    [Our host] said that this was a good year for elevated structure and tannins. As there was no oak aging in this wine, it was a clear,very pure expression of Tempranillo. It would be a great red wine for summer. A fresh style with a dark berry character.

    Opens with jumpy, punchy plum and black cherry aromas that seem a touch candied. It’s big, grabby and tannic on the palate, with sweet plum, blackberry and foxy flavors. Grapey, thick and loaded with fruit. 87 points.

    The 2006 Mibal is 100% Tempranillo aged for 12 months in French oak. It is opaque purple with a super-expressive nose of mineral, spice box, cedar, leather, blackberry, and licorice. Dense and layered, it has gobs of sweet fruit, incipient complexity, several years of aging potential, and a lengthy finish. Drink this superb effort from 2011 to 2022.

    [I]t's a beauty…very gentle wash of French oak, like lavender scented sheets, pretty nose, great fruit with lasting, complex flavors.

  • Quinta Cruz "Pierce Ranch" Tempranillo, $16 - $23.

    Some quotations and facts:

    The nose on this wine is absolutely beautiful, with aromas of blackberry, cherry, coffee, cured meats and brown sugar. The palate is equally delightful, offering ripe blackberry and cherry flavors complemented by hints of chocolate. The concentration on the palate is perfect, as are the acidity and balance. The tannins are dense enough to give a little structure, but I wouldn’t complain with a little more tannin. The finish is nice and long, and adds a touch of tobacco. All told, this is an outstanding wine. 91 points.

    Dark ruby color; appealing, aromatic, baked berry, baked black fruit, licorice, dried berry, chocolate cherry nose; plush, baked black fruit, tart plum, baked berry, sandalwood palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (13.2% alcohol; sample provided by winery). 90+ points

    The 2010 Tempranillo from Quinta Cruz, in Santa Cruz, California is similar to those of Portugal’s Douro region, where the grape is widely grown and is referred to as Tinta Roriz. The 2010 is soft on tannin and has deep blackberry and wild strawberry fruit, with hints of vanilla and anise. This wine goes with a variety of foods. An all-around crowd pleaser, the 2010 is a steal ($18). Consider it your high-end "table wine".

    The Quinta Cruz Tempranillo is complex with fruit—from wild strawberries and cranberries to darker red fruits. This wine is as versatile as a good Pinot Noir.

    [The] San Antonio [Valley] is a little-known sweet spot for Iberian varieties and Grenache; keep an eye on it. This deft basic bottle is fruity and soft-edged, with bright blueberry, birch bark and a subtle spiciness.

    An aromatic floral and vanilla wrap lends elegance to dusty berries spiced with anise and a touch of chocolate.

    Candied cherry mocha fruit with some earthy clay to make it interesting.

    Santa Cruz Mountain wine that is harsh and smooth at the same time. Hot and high acid, cranberry and smoke, tobacco, ash, bouillion. Some finish. Lots going on and some care in making it.

  • Abacela "Umpqua Valley" Tempranillo, $18 - $22.
    (Oregon; do not confuse with their more expensive "Estate" bottling.)
         ($19.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    A complement to the winery's Estate-labeled Tempranillo, it's made in a more fruit forward, less tannic style—though there are still firm, grainy tannins aplenty. It has notes of pencil shavings, red fruit and sweet spices accented by mouthwatering acidity. Try it with food—preferably Spanish tapas—to see it at its best.

    Polished wine; red-Rainier cherries; chile Pasilla, chocolate mint and scent of freshly sanded wood. 9.0/10

    ♣ Wine Spectator (December 31 2008), 88 points

    This is a complex wine, showing a mix of leather, herb, mineral and dark fruits. It’s balanced and tough, with a meaty concentration that suggests ageworthiness. 89 points.

    Aromas of red cherry and raspberry mingle with light spice and floral character, leading to a cherry/berry palate with hints of cedar and vanilla.

    Lighter bodied than Abacela’s other releases, this wine is vibrant and approachable with notes of cherry cola, blackberry, mocha and savory spice.

    Saturated medium ruby color; aromatic, baked berry, black fruit nose; silky textured, tight, tart red berry, tart red fruit palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish. 89 points.

    [A] beautifully dark, supple, densely textured 2007 Abacela Umpqua Valley Tempranillo, replete with concentrated blackberry and strawberry liqueur-like flavors.

    Medium color, with ripe red fruits and plum, earth, and pepper on the nose. Medium-bodied with moderate tannins.

  • Llano Estacado Winery "Cellar Reserve" Texas High Plains Tempranillo, $13 - $17.

    Some quotations and facts:

    The wine is very dark - nearly see-through - and the bouquet is as fragrant as can be. Blackberries and blueberries hold their own amid a nose full of tobacco, nutmeg and white pepper. As I have found with Texas Tempranillo before, it smells like Rioja to me. The palate is spicy, too, and has a farmers market full of dark fruit playing into a minty note that borders on eucalyptus. Some very bright acidity rounds out a sip that can be described as very enjoyable. The tannins are extremely smooth.

    The Llano Tempranillo was every bit as good as most of the Spanish Tempranillos we've had over the last couple of years. The aromas of plum and light fruit were the first thing to hit, but they are not indicative of what was to come. This Tempranillo was slightly fruity with good structure and a touch of oak. Like most Tempranillos it was full of fruit, but still maintained a full bodied presence. Robust cherries and berries mingled on the palate with a touch of spice and smoky oak. Supple tannins provided a well balance finish that was neither too bold, nor too fruity. As the wine oxidized the sweetness became more pronounced. Even with vacuum pumps, by the third day this wine was considerably sweeter than when it was opened. So if you're into sweet wines, open it and wait a couple days to drink. If you're into more robust and drier reds, finish this one off in a day or two.

    ♣ Texas "Tempranillo Mega-Tasting" (2013), 3rd of 23

    The third-placed 2011 Llano Estacado was Advanced Sommelier Steve Murphey’s second favorite and he listed notes of "tea leaves, dried red fruit, herbal, chicory..." Russell Burkett with SER Steak+Spirits at the Hilton Anatole ranked it fifth and described it as "bright ruby color leading with earth notes of turned soil, wet leaves, stewed fruits of blackberry, chery, raspberry. Moderate-plus acidity. Long finish."

    The enticing deep, dark garnet color in the glass leads to aromas and flavors of blackberries, dark cherry and plum, finishing with hints of smoke, spice and a touch of vanilla. This is a complete wine from its velvety smooth tannins to its graceful finish and everything in between.

    Vaguely smelling of cola. Simultaneously juicy and tannic which carries onto the finish. Some tobacco, blackberry. Needs at least 2 years to open.

    The Llano Tempranillo is one of my favorites; it has the rustic, earthy nature of a Rioja but is tempered with the fruitiness common in New World Tempranillo. It is that balance of New and Old World that I love in Texas wines.

  • Idilico Tempranillo, $19 - $25.
    (Washington State)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A vibrantly aromatic wine with cherries, cigar box, and spice. The palate is deliciously fresh and fruit filled with pure cherry flavors and minimal oak influence. A rare find at this price point for this emerging varietal. Upland, Airport Ranch, and Elerding vineyards. Aged in neutral oak. 14.0% alcohol. 3½* (Good/Excellent)

    First Opening: The nose is dark dusty leather clad berries with hints of earthy pepper. The palate is lush dark fruit and coffee with a tart sweet cherry bark finish. . . One hour after opening: building complexity and looking for trouble. Flying into the ring with a nose of dark red berries mixed with raspberry, light toasty spices, leather and cedar notes. The palate is showing dark berries and clove spices that linger on to a tart pie cherry and all spice finish. One day after opening: continues to add flair and style with a nose that is featuring some citrus along with red berry, leather and underbrush. The palate has notes of menthol, coffee, dark fruit and tart cherry with a spicy finish. . . 89 points.

    This wine is 100% Tempranillo sourced from Snipes Mountain, Yakima Valley, and Horse Heaven which was aged in French oak for 12 months. Alcohol 14%. The nose revealed a little leather, earth, and herbs. In the mouth there were interesting flavors of black fruit, some tobacco, along with firm ripe tannins that were drying. There was some vintage perfume along with berries. ***

    Seattle Magazine (Augusr 2012); one of Washington's ten best Tempranillos (all others were over $20).

    (Decent/Good) A moderately aromatic wine with yellow raisins, sweet spice, and sour cherry. The palate has tart fruit flavors and firm, slightly bitter tannins. 100% Tempranillo. Elerding (Horse Heaven Hills) and Upland vineyards.

    [T]he Tempranillo and Albarino from [Idilico] . . . are incredibly varietally correct and strikingly delicious.

For a Splurge

Well, obviously the whole hog is a Gran Reserva from some creditable winery. One as good as many and better than some would be the CVNE Cune Imperial Gran Reserva, which goes for $50 to $985, depending chiefly on how old a vintage you want to pop for (the range is 2007 back to 1935).

The 2004 linked above—the superstar, so to speak—can be found from from as little as $50 on up to $225; but the lower-priced ones will probably be gone by the time you're reading this. On the other hand, if you avoid the "superstar" vintage, you can, with care and a little luck, probably find some other vintage at a manageable price.

Or you can try some Gran Reserva Riojas from other makers: López de Heredia, La Rioja Alta, or Muga are good candidates (or here's a much longer list).

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