14th June 2024
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Special Wine Club Offer: Take the Tempranillo Challenge

The latest Spain in English Wine Club Offer gives you the chance to try three different red wines made with the same grape – Spain’s popular Tempranillo.

If you’ve been to Spain and had a glass of red wine, chances are you’ve tasted Tempranillo. It’s one of the most common wine grapes used in Spanish winemaking and covers just under 200,000 hectares of vineyard – that’s about one-fifth of all Spain’s vineyards.

The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish word temprano, which means ‘early’. That’s because Tempranillo ripens early and has a shorter growing cycle than many other grapes. It’s also a grape with low acidity and relatively low natural sugars.

Those lower sugar levels and that early ripening makes for wines which don’t tend to be too high in alcohol, which means they are relatively easy to drink and can pair well with different foods – another reason for the grape’s popularity.

In terms of its flavour profile, wines made from Tempranillo often have aromas like strawberries and other red fruits, and you can often detect spice, leather and tobacco leaves. But the end result is as much down to the skill of the winemaker as it is to the grape variety itself. And you’ll often find Tempranillo blended with other varieties, such as Garnacha, Graciano or Mazuelo (aka Carignan) to give it a bit more character.

Freshly picked Tempranillo grapes
Freshly picked Tempranillo grapes

We said earlier that Tempranillo ripens early. And that means it’s particularly suited to cooler parts of the country (yes, there are some in Spain!). But because of the low sugars it also needs warm weather to get the grapes to ripen and boost that sugar content. So, it’s an ideal grape to grow in climates that offer enough sunshine to ripen but not so much heat that it over ripens and spoils.

Which is why it’s so common in the more northerly wine making regions of Spain, particularly the famous wine regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero (where the grape is often referred to as ‘Tinta del Pais’), and the slightly lesser-known region of Toro. But that doesn’t mean that the Tempranillo wines that come from them are all identical.

Altitude and climate are differentiating factors in all three places. Rioja benefits from warm winds which travel from the Mediterranean up the Ebro valley. And it’s protected from the cold winds and rain of the Cantabrian Sea by mountains to the north. That creates a more moderate continental climate which allows Tempranillo grapes to mature gradually.

Meanwhile, Ribera is further away from maritime influences and has higher average altitudes. That makes for sharper temperature differences between night and day, and hotter summers. Toro, which sits to the west of Ribera del Duero, is fairly wild and remote and, like it’s neighbour characterised by a continental climate with extremely cold winters and long hours of sunlight. In both regions, those long hot days help the grapes to ripen faster. But the cooler temperatures at night help to pause the ripening, giving the vines time to relax and helping to lock freshness into the grapes.

The Duero river winds through the landscape of Ribera de Duero
The Duero river winds through the landscape of Ribera de Duero.

It’s not often wise to generalise because you’ll always find examples that break the rule, but on the whole Rioja’s milder, more uniform climate can help to produce more elegant, lighter wines. Whilst Ribera and Toro’s harsher climates encourages tougher, more resistant grapes which can give stronger, more concentrated wines.

So, can you taste the difference? Well, a simple test is to pour out a glass of the wine and give it a good sniff. If you get intense aromas of red fruits like strawberry, the wine is more likely to be a Rioja. If the aromas are more towards mature or black fruit like blackberries, then the wine is more likely to be Ribera or Toro.

Some experts say Ribera wines can have more lactose, yoghurt-like aromas, thanks to more limestone in the soil. A more intense colour is another indicator of Ribera del Duero. And Ribera wines can also be slightly drier on the palate than wines from Rioja, thanks to higher tannins from the harsher climate.

Wine makers in Toro have traditionally focused on producing big, powerful red wines, similar to those of Ribera del Duero. But in recent years, the profile of Toro’s wines has shifted significantly with more focus on the region’s rich store of old vines. These ancient plants thrive in the local sandy soils and produce more elegant, refined wines that are well worth investigating.

So, one grape, three different regions, three different results. Are those differences obvious? Well, the best way to see is to taste some of these wines alongside each other. And we’re giving you a perfect opportunity to do just that. Our latest Wine Club Offer from partners Simply Spanish Wine is a Tempranillo Tasting pack of six bottles offering three excellent Tempranillo wines which are perfect examples of the three regions mentioned here – Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro.

So, take a look at our Latest Special Offer, read more about the three exceptional wines included, and see if your tastebuds can take the Tempranillo Challenge! We also offer free shipping to mainland Spain for all our readers. Take a look at the latest offer and get your order in now.

Please click here to see all the current Spain in English Wine Club offers.

Matthew Desoutter is a wine writer and owner of Simply Spanish Wine.

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