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The most widely grown red grape in Spain, Tempranillo is cultivated in almost every wine region in the country. It derives its name from the Spanish word for early, temprano, because it ripens a couple of weeks prior to other red grapes that are its frequent blending partners.
Spain has strict aging requirements for its iconic Tempranillo-based wines from select appellations. From youngest to oldest, they are joven, crianza, reserva and gran reserva, each with specific aging minimums in barrel and bottle. The aging requirements provide a guideline to consumers on the final style of a wine.
Reds from Rioja are often dominated by Tempranillo, with Mazuelo, Garnacha and Graciano sometimes included in the final blend to add touches of fruit, spice, aroma and structure. The youngest wines, like joven and crianza, are light in profile and typically show bright acidity and jammy fruit flavors. Longer aged wines, like reservas and gran reservas, display layers of complexity and concentration. They are structured reds that show flavors of stewed fruit, spice and black olive.
Wines from Ribera del Duero tend to be 100% Tempranillo, yet small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot can be added. The grape, locally called Tinto Fino or Tinto del País, thrives on the limestone soils at elevations between 2,500–3,000 feet in the region. This combination yields structured, powerful wines full of rich berry flavors, high acidity and dense tannins.
Toro’s sandy soils are a natural barrier to pests, so the region boasts a high percentage of old vines that offer rich, layered flavors. Joven wines from Toro have little or no oak aging, while roble wines are aged in barrel for three to six months.
La Mancha is known for light, fruity value driven versions. However, more and more producers are now making higher-end, barrel-aged Tempranillo at premium prices.
Marqués de Murrieta 2011 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial (Rioja); $229. Buy on Vivino. Deep violet-red to the eye, this wine has a nose of raspberry, white chocolate and juniper berry… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Matarromera 2018 Crianza (Ribera del Duero); $35. Buy on Vivino. Aromas of blueberry and orange zest set the stage for flavors of black cherry, pomegranate, salted caramel and milk chocolate… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW