What Makes Rioja Tempranillo Special?

What makes Rioja Tempranillo special? 

— A question from Peggy from Wisconsin

“What an insightful question Peggy! I would think you may have arrived at this question from your sensorial experience with a glass of Rioja. As I shared in my book, ‘Tempranillo of Rioja expresses the nobility of the grape in a way that is not found in any other wine region.’ This nobility is the greatest expression of the grape, which translates into balance, elegance, and finesse that equates excellence. Experts agree that the terrior of Rioja is where Tempranillo is happiest. Our growers and winemakers are in a ‘deep relationship’ with Tempranillo which accounts for over 80% of our current DOCa vineyard distribution. In addition to this, the DOCa of Rioja implements a sophisticated system of quality control that assists in the pursuit of excellence.”

Ana Fabiano is the Trade Director for the U.S. Rioja campaign, Brand Ambassador for the DOCa Rioja, and author of the award-winning book The Wine Region of Rioja. She has traveled extensively throughout Rioja is passionate about this region of the world.

A little more background on tempranillo while we’re on the subject:

Temprano means “early,” and illo (“little one”) is a diminutive in the Castilian Language. “Early” comes from the fact that the vegetation cycle of tempranillo is shorter; it ripens early and is harvested before other red grape varieties. “Little one” is due to the fact that the grape itself is smaller than other varieties. Tempranillo is widely cultivated in Spain, but is king in Rioja in terms of both acreage and, most importantly, unrivaled quality.

A bluish black thick-skinned grape, Tempranillo needs cold, sun and heat – and has all three in Rioja. Other red grape varieties that blend well with tempranillo include Garnacha Tinta (mainly known by its French name of Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo. Garnacha enhances the color, body and alcohol of tempranillo, while graciano brings more grace, and mazuelo is used in aging Reservas and Gran Reservas.