For many the star of Spanish grapes, the superbly aromatic Tempranillo is known by many other names, including Ull de Llebre in Catalonia, Cencibel in La Mancha and Madrid and Tinto Fino in Rioja.
Tempranillo’s association with high quality wines is much deserved, as this thick-skinned grape is capable of making deep-coloured, long-lasting, world-class wines, that are not unusually for Spain, relatively high in alcohol.
A Tempranillo-based wine will tend to have a spicy, herby, sometimes tobacco-like character, accompanied by ripe strawberry and red cherry fruits. The fresh, vibrantly fruit-driven jovenes (young ones) are meant for drinking young and are still gathering pace in many of the most important markets of the wine world.
For some traditionalists however, Tempranillo really comes into its own when oak- aged. In the case of the top Riojas for example, its flavours seem to harmonise perfectly with both French and American oak, producing rich, powerful and concentrated wines which can be extraordinarily long-lived.
In Ribera del Duero the Tempranillo grape generally sees less oak, with Vega Sicilia the obvious exception. Here it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and then aged for an astonishing 7 years in oak to create what is unquestionably one of the world`s greatest wines.
While the easy-drinking, fruit-driven jovenes are often enjoyed on their own, like their oak-aged brothers, they also make the perfect match for a wide range of gastronomical delights. Red meat dishes are the obvious choice, but a Tempranillo wine will also make the ideal companion to tapas dishes, such as cured serrano ham or spicy Spanish chorizo sausage.