POPULAR Tempranillo grapes being inspected in a Spanish vineyard.
The name of a wine grape and the name of a wine region often create some confusion among consumers. Let’s take Tempranillo, for instance – Spain’s most-planted red-wine grape. Tempranillo might not be as much of a household name as the likes of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but yet it is one of the most frequently purchased wines by Irish consumers.
Tempranillo (the grape) is often confused with Rioja (a region in the north of Spain) – mainly because Tempranillo is the noble grape of this region. The name Rioja, where this wine can be from, is also written prominently on the front of the wine label, whereas ‘Tempranillo’ is often relegated to the back label of the bottle.
Tempranillo is generally a medium-full-bodied red wine that is fruit forward with notes of red and black berries, cherry and plum. A great value-for-money wine, it is versatile and suits most palates.
While mostly known as Tempranillo here on Irish shores, this grape also travels under different names, depending on where it is produced. It is widely known as ‘Tinta Roriz’ or ‘Aragonez’ in Portugal. In the Ribera del Duero region, beside Rioja in Northern Spain, it can be called ‘Tinto del Pais’. In fact, there are more than 50 different names for Tempranillo!
Tempranillo comes in a range of styles and price structures, heavily influenced by the time the wine spends in an oak barrel or bottled in a winery for purpose of ageing. The wines from the Rioja region have a four-tiered classification system that marks the quality of the Tempranillo, and the wine is labelled accordingly on the bottle.
A wine labelled ‘Joven’ (meaning young in Spanish), will spend little or no time in oak and be relatively cheap in price, an excellent food pairing with ham or chorizo. The next level up ‘Crianza’ which spends two years ageing in the winery (one year of which is spent in oak barrels) will be sublime with beef influenced pasta dishes. A personal favourite Crianza Rioja wine is called Rondan, by winemaker Manuel Tato, with a price of around €15 a bottle.
The third tier up is called ‘Reserva’, which in Rioja means the Tempranillo has been aged in the winery for three years (with at least one year in oak barrels). A classic is ‘Vina Tondonia’ by winemaker Maria Heredia, with a general price of around €29 – suitable for richer dishes such as venison and pigeon.
The fourth and final tier, ‘Gran Reserva’ spends five years in the winery, of which three are spent in oak barrel. Splendid, elegant wines – these Tempranillos command quite high prices (generally at least €45 a bottle), and are most suited with fine cheese, or enjoyed by the fireplace on a winter’s evening.
> philip dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.