The Explore 4: Tempranillo Study

The Explore 4: Tempranillo Study

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SommSelect’s “Explore 4” surveys the vast landscape of wine and breaks it into small, digestible bites. Each month, we select four bottles that fit a theme, allowing members to experience a diversity of styles while developing their own palate preferences. It’s an ongoing exploration of wine through a sommelier’s eyes and there’s no more effective, and enjoyable, way to learn about wine

Depending on the source, Tempranillo ranks somewhere between third and sixth among the most-planted red wine grapes in the world. 

In this edition of Explore 4, we attempt to pin down Tempranillo’s varietal character—an effort complicated by the fact that (a) its spiritual homeland, Rioja, typically presents it as part of a blend, and (b) the heavy use of oak in most Tempranillo-based wines tends to cloud the picture. Let’s see what we can find out! Here is what is in the box: 

El Vino Prodigo, Rioja “Placeres Sensoriales” 2022

Pedro Peciña Gil, whose family founded Hermanos Peciña (also featured here), grew up working alongside his father, who was the head agronomist at La Rioja Alta before creating the family label. El Vino Prodigo sources its raw material from vineyards in the “Rioja Alta” sub-district, where vineyards climb to the highest altitudes in Rioja. It is 100% Tempranillo sourced from old vines situated at 500+ meters of elevation, vinified with whole grape clusters intact in concrete tanks. The “sensory pleasures” of this wine are fruit-driven, first and foremost, with notes of Damson plum, brambly blackberry, damp violets, dried herbs, black pepper, and crushed stones. 

Goyo García, Ribera del Duero “Joven de Viñas Viejas” 2021

Ribera del Duero, a plateau southwest of Rioja, is a seemingly impossible place for viticulture. In this arid region, soaring daytime temperatures come crashing down at night, preserving the acidity of the local Tempranillo clone, Tinto Fino. Goyo García Viadero grew up in Ribera del Duero, and has been working in wine since before the region became a D.O., in 1982. García organically farms 40 hectares, 10 of which are used for his own wines. Natural, low-intervention winemaking is the rule. The rich, red and black fruits are framed by ripe tannin, and a core of earthy, saline minerals adds to the complexity.

Martúe, Vino de la Tierra Tempranillo “Evolution” 2020

Fausto Gonzalez established his first vineyards in 1990, uprooting plantings of an innocuous white grape, Airen, and replacing it with Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and other varieties. Martúe’s home base is a village called La Guardia de Toledo, where vineyards at 850 meters are rooted in limestone-rich soils. Crafted from 100% Tempranillo that is hand-harvested, estate-grown fruit was fermented on ambient yeasts in stainless steel tanks. Once the wine was completed it matured in used 225-liter French oak barrels for three months.

Hermanos Peciña, Rioja Crianza 2016

Estate founder Pedro Peciña was the longtime vineyard manager of the legendary La Rioja Alta estate before striking out on his own in 1992. As is typical of Peciña wines, this one is aged for much longer than is required by law: It’s a crianza that spends at least two years in (used) barrels and 18 months in bottle before it is released. It’s a Rioja/Tempranillo archetype, for sure, with a nice balance of polish and rusticity.

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