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Why is Tempranillo so popular in Spain?

Tempranillo is Spain´s most widely known red grape. It is also the most widely spread variety in the Rioja wine producing region. Not very well-known some years ago, Tempranillo has become today one of the world´s best considered noble red varieties.

Tracing back the history of a grape variety is not an easy task. This is also the case for Tempranillo. There are references on Tempranillo that date back to the XVII Century, though most things suggest the grape was present in regions like Rioja well before those days.

Tempranillo receives different names in different regions of Spain. In Rioja it is known as Tempranillo. In Ribera del Duero its name is Tinta Fina (from fine), in La Mancha and Valdepeñas it is known as Cencibel, Tinta de Toro in Toro wine region, Negral in Madrid, or Ull de Llebre in Cataluña. It has today become a variety planted in other parts of the world.

Why has been so successful in Spain? Its qualities speak for themselves, but to this we should add something very important and which is derived from its name. Tempranillo in Spanish language is the diminutive for Temprano (early). Tempranillo suggests early ripening. This is very important as a quality. Early ripening implies a reduction of the risks associated to bad weather conditions just before the harvest. We can claim that the earliest the grape is harvest the less risks exist. This was for sure a very convincing argument for many grape growers to opt for Tempranillo. In a country like Spain where hours of sun light are never a problem, an early harvest permits a vintage to be finished 3 months before Christmas. Tempranillo would normally ripen 1 to 3 weeks before other noble red varieties.

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Tempranillo is not a big grape. It is black when ripened, round and of moderate size. In most Spanish wine regions Tempranillo can be used as a single variety or mixed with other varieties. The typical blend in Rioja, for instance, is with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano. Many of the wineries we visit in Rioja during our tours produce blends.

Tempranillo can typically produced complex wines, not very alcoholic, with high tannins and not very acid. Cherries and strawberries are the most frequently found aromas in Tempranillo.

Tempranillo can be used both to produce young fresh wines or can be aged for long periods, to produce more complex wines, which are famed for their structure and elegance. Spain is a country where normally low yields are produced per hectare. This is a normal thing to happen if we bear in mind that before irrigitation systems where produced, the vines could not be planted very close to each other to ensure competition for a soil lacking in some occasions water would not be a problem.

We´ll be introducing more posts on some of Spain´s varieties soon.

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