To Spanish winemakers, no more important fruit exists than the black grape known as Tempranillo. The main ingredient of the famous robust red wine Rioja, and an important part of other red wines, the black grapes generally are used in varietal, or blended, wines.
The low acidity of the Tempranillo grape leads most winemakers to blend it with other wines to keep its body after aging. But not much is needed to correct what the otherwise-perfect grape lacks in PH. To make Rioja wines, for example, winemakers sometimes use as much as 90 percent Tempranillo grapes in their blends. In Portugal, makers of fine Port often utilize the thick-skinned grape.
Deeply, richly red in color, wines made from the Tempranillo grape yield plummy-blackberry flavors with undertones of herbs, vanilla and leather. The wines present a full body, especially when aged for several years in oak barrels before distribution.
Wines made with aging in mind are known as ”crianza” wines, and have a more robust quality. The lighter ”joven” wines can be enjoyed soon after production.
Tempranillo grapes get their name from the Spanish word ”temprano,” meaning ”little early one,” due to their tendency to ripen weeks before other grapes. This classic mainstay of Spanish winemaking may have been transported to the country by French monks, possibly even as a genetic offspring of Pinot Noir, the grape that it most resembles.
Whatever their origin, Tempranillo grapes go back so far in Spanish culture that historians can”t pin down their discovery as wine grapes, or whether they are truly native to Spain. The earliest specific reference to the grape appears in a 13th century poem praising ”las tempraniellas” as superior to other grapes.