Spain! Blood in the sand on a sunny afternoon. Explosive passion. Bold, reckless courage amid urgent, masculine strums of a guitar and taunting clicks of flamenco heels.
Surely Tempranillo, Spain’s signature wine grape, personifies hyper-macho assertiveness.
Except, it doesn’t.
A splendid grape, ciertamente, but not the full-bodied, bodice-ripping conquistador you might expect.
Sometimes called Spain’s Cabernet Sauvignon, it is not so bold. In texture and tannins and color, it falls between Pinot Noir and Merlot. It is not notably high in alcohol. When treated reverently in vineyard and winery, a deep-colored, long-lasting wine can be made from its thick-skinned grapes, but it will not be mistaken for Shiraz or Cab or Zin. It is its own delicious self, señor.
Tempranillo is Spain’s most planted grape. Traditionally blended with Garnacha (Grenache), impulsive Spanish winemakers also now throw in Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot to create wines to compete in the international trade as the next big thing.
Tempranillo can achieve deep color, low acidity, moderate tannin. As such, it usually is best drunk young when its cherry flavors dominate, which means it can be a great value wine. After a few years of aging, often in old American oak, vanilla notes work their way into the Tempranillo symphony.
If you enjoy Rioja Spanish wine—and if you don’t, shame on you—then you enjoy Tempranillo. Spain is hot wine country now and Tempranillo inflames boom. Enjoy it at your next bullfight, or with su amor tonight.
Recommended (all from Spain):
• Ercavio Tempranillo Roble. Black fruits and spice amid cedar and oak. $12
• Bodegas Campo Viejo Reserva. Cherries, tea, spice, light, supple. $13
• Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza. Black cherry, juicy, smooth, balanced. $18
• Marques de Caceres Reserva. Plump, rich, just enough tannins. $26