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If you love the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon but the fruitiness of Grenache then you’ll love Tempranillo. It’s big wine with high tannin that will buddy up to any piece of rich meat. Tempranillo is a popular grape that grows everywhere, but its homeland is Spain.
In Spain, the region famous for Tempranillo is Rioja. Unlike American wine, Rioja uses a system of qualifying their wines making it pretty easy to find what you like. So how are the wines of Rioja classified? One of the primary qualifications between the different styles is oak-aging. Very basically: the more oak, the higher the quality level.
Rioja used to be called “vin joven” which literally means “young wine.” Now when a wine is labeled ‘Rioja’ and it’s the base-model Tempranillo, they are baby Tempranillo wines without all the tannin (or the richness) of the other classifications. What they don’t have in structure they make up for in zippy fruit. Try this level of Rioja as a great example of the true varietal characteristics of Tempranillo wine.
Crianza is perhaps the most accessible level of Rioja wines, especially since most can be found for less than $15. At the Crianza level, the wines are most commonly aged in used oak, so the oak flavors are not as strong. The goal of Crianza is a high-quality daily drinking wine. It’s not too rich, but with Tempranillo’s natural high tannin it has quite a bit more body than Merlot. It’s like a great valued Cabernet Sauvignon.
This is where Rioja tastes serious. At the Reserva level, winemakers often age their wines longer than the minimum and select better grapes. Many Rioja wine enthusiasts swear by Reserva level because they are a medium between super fruity Crianza and oakey-bottle-aged Gran Reserva.
The Gran Reserva level of Rioja experiences the most oak-aging. This gives Rioja wine the most tannin structure and age-worthy potential. What’s interesting about Gran Reserva is that most winemakers select the best grapes for this level and age them for as long as the wine needs. This means most of the new release Gran Reservas are around 10 years old or older when you first see them available. Gran Reserva Rioja are ideal wines to cellar up to 30 years.
Tempranillo is a red grape variety which forms the backbone of some of the finest wines from Spain & Portugal. Almost every red wine from Rioja has Tempranillo at its core.
Tempranillo means "little early one", a name given to it by Spanish growers who observed its habit of ripening earlier than Garnacha (Grenache), its traditional Spanish blending partner.
15.5pts - Jancis Robinson
"Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo. Recently created project (2008) in Entrena (Rioja Alta) at 600 m. Vineyards from 3 to 65 years old. 13 months in new & used American & French oak.
Rioja integrated style. Good winemaking standards. Sweet spices, red fruits & vinous character. It has a medium body with rounded & polished tannins. It has enough acidity to balance the wine. Standard & very drinkable wine." - Jancis Robinson