Barcelona Wine Tasting: A Tale of Tempranillo

Time to get ready for a particularly interesting tasting this week! We’re going to be looking at Tempranillo as a grape variety in it’s three most prestigous appellations across Spain; Toro, Ribera del Duero and Rioja. Tempranillo is Spain’s ‘noble’ grape and dominates quality wine-making to a quite considerable extent, particularly in wines available in international markets. So named Tempranillo due to its early ripening nature, after the Spanish word for early, ‘Temprano’. Interestingly, it is still really only being grown in any great quantity in Spain with very few ‘New World’ winemakers seemingly interested; Argentina and Australia are two notable exceptions here. Across Spain it has a wealth of different names depending on where you grow it: Tinto de Toro in DO Toro, Cencibel in La Mancha, Ull de Llebre in Catalunya and should you poke your head across the border to Portugal, you’ll quickly discover a remarkably similar grape they call Tinta Roriz. With up to 72 different synonyms for the same grape, this can get confusing pretty quickly, hence why we’re choosing to focus on the top 3 quality producing regions!

Tempranillo is structurally a pretty friendly wine and very much in line with what most consumers are looking for; smooth textures, fruit, low tannins, reasonable acidity and an affinity for new oak. Yet, not only can it do all this but it also ages remarkably well and is very good at tasting..well… of Tempranillo! As Oz Clarke points out, it doesn’t quite have the ability to express ‘terroir’ as well as say, Pinot Noir, but it is reliable, seductive and can be made into wines of the very highest quality. It can be made into bruising, bulky wines over 15% alcohol and also makes easy-drinking light wines all the way down to 12%. The last time I flew with British Airways I was given a mini-bottle of Tempranillo from La Mancha at 12% alcohol and whilst you would hardly call it a great wine, it went down very, very smoothly indeed!

Below is a list of the 6 wines we’re going to be trying during the evening; two wines from Toro, Ribera del Duero and Rioja. There will be distinct differences in climate, viticulture and wine-making practices so we can explore the different sides of this versatile grape and whilst the tasting is completely booked, there will be others so make sure you make an account with Meet-up and join Maestrazgo Wine Club for our newsletter and notice of tastings as they go up!

Victorino 2013 (DO Toro) — We’re going to start with the bruisers! DO Toro is famous for producing the most full-bodied style of Tempranillo in Spain, made from a mutation of Tempranillo known as ‘Tinto de Toro’; thick skinned, powerful with soft tannins, lowish acidity and high alcohol. Victorino is a wine from Bodega Teso la Monja and part of the Sierra Cantabria family. A 15% alcohol wine made from old (45–100 years) vines and aged for 20 months in new French oak… needless to say, I shall be giving this a decant prior to serving! A wine of the utmost quality and a powerful introduction to what Tempranillo in Toro is all about.

Pintia 2006 (DO Toro) — Next up is another full bodied expression of Tinto de Toro, albeit with a little more age and a little less upfront oak. Pintia is an extension of Spains most famous winery, Bodega Vega-Sicilia, who expanded into both Rioja and Toro in their Tempranillo-based conquest over 20 years ago now. Despite the high alcohol, Pintia show-cases a lot of the reserve and elegance that Vega-Sicilia are stylistically famous for, producing a wine of class and power. The tannins are ripe and smooth with pleasant flavours of dark fruits, cedar and evident oak from the 12 months ageing process. A lovely comparison with the young bull (I had to!) above.

Finca Villacreces 2011 (DO Ribera del Duero) — We now know DO Ribera del Duero as a popular wine producing region famous for its modern and often blended styles of Tempranillo, however it wasn’t truly realised until the 1990’s that saw an influx of investment into the area; By 1998 there were 57 Bodegas in the area, by 2007 this had more than tripled to 180. Famous for it’s high altitude vineyards that allow Tempranillo to fully ripen whilst still retaining a refreshing level of acidity, DO Ribera del Duero now rivals DOC Rioja for the most popular region of Spain, with many preferring it’s more youthful and full-bodied style of wines. Finca Villacreces has long been a favourite wine of mine, sitting on a beautiful plot of land along the ‘Golden Mile’ of Ribera del Duero. It’s the second wine in their range and a Tempranillo dominant blend with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Merlot added for extra structure and complexity before being aged for 14 months in new French oak. A reliable and lovely wine.

Gran Valtravieso 2006 (DO Ribera del Duero) — A counter-point to Finca Villacreces is this brooding, powerful wine with enough age to start softening out and turning into something truly wonderful. Aged for 36 months in oak barrels, this actually sees 3 periods of ageing for 12 months in three separate types of French oak from different forests, making this wine a victory of blending more than anything else. This is the top wine from a relatively new Bodega that has garnered a growing reputation for good quality, affordable wines. With a 50 euro price tag, this wine doesn’t fall into that category but then, as the top wine of the estate, why would it?

Muga Reserva Seleccion Especial 2011 (DOC Rioja) — It wouldn’t be a Tempranillo tasting if we didn’t finish with the old King; DOC Rioja. Rioja has been the most famous region in Spain for some time and with their choke-hold on the export scene, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. However, as far as complex and delicious Tempranillo wines go, they’re still at the top of the pile as far as I’m concerned, blending in Graciano for extra perfume and Grenache and Mazuelo (Carignan) blends for extra structure and kick. Muga Reserva Special Selection is exactly what it suggests; a special selection from their various vineyards blending together into a ratio of 70/20/7/3 of Tempranillo, Grenache, Carignan and Graciano. Aged for 26 months and only recently released, this wine got a wonderful write up from Spanish Wine Lover recently and with good reason — it’s really quite exceptional

Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2006 (DOC Rioja) — To finish the tasting we’re going with an old classic; A Gran Reserva from a top producer with a traditional blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Grenache/Carignan/Graciano with a long, long ageing process — 7 years between different oak casks and bottle ageing! This is really what Rioja is famous for; complex and expressive Tempranillo dominant blends created for the long haul. Truthfully, we’re probably drinking this one a little younger than would be considered ideal, but it’s still a delicious wine!

There we have it; a comprehensive look at Tempranillo across the three regions most famous for it, young wines vs older, blends vs single variety. Combine this with a wonderful group of people, heaps of food and a beautiful tasting room and you have yourself a winning combination. Looking forward to it already!

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