What's in a name?

A grape by any other name… is still Tempranillo

One of the fascinating —but equally utterly bewildering —things about discovering wine is how many different names the same can grape go by depending on country or region. Here are some examples you may or may not already be familiar with:

Grenache Noir: Garnacha Tinto (Spain), Cannonau (Sardinia)
Malbec: Cot Noir or Auxerrois (Cahors)
Mourvedre: Monastrell (Spain), Mataro (Australia)
Pinot Noir: Pinot Nero (Italy), Spatburgunder (Germany), Blauburgunder (Austria, Switzerland)
Trebbiano: Ugni Blanc (France)
Zinfandel: Primitivo, Primitivo di Gioia (Italy)

But, without a doubt the King of them all is Tempranillo. Like a fugitive running from the law, it has a different name nearly everywhere it lives.

It is the key grape in the majority of Spain’s most famous red wines – most notably in Rioja (where it goes by the name of Tinto de la Rioja) and in the Ribera del Duero (where it goes by the names Tinto Fino or Tinta del Pais). But Toro’s best grape is Tinto del Toro. Valdepeñas and La Mancha boast about their Cencibel. Penedes swears by the Ull de Llebre or Ojo de Llebre in Catalonia – and so it goes on, through province after province: Albillo Negro, Aldepenas, Aragon, Aragones, Arganda, Arinto Tinto, Cencibera, Chinchillana, Chinchillano, Chinchilyano, Cupani, De Por Aca, Escobera, Grenache de Logrono, Garnacho Fono, Jacibera, Jacibiera, Jacivera, Juan Garcia, Negra de Mesa, Negretto, Olho de Lebre, Pinuela, Sensibel, Tempranilla, Tinta Corriente, Tinta de Santiago, Tinta do Inacio, Tinta Fina, Tinto Madrid, Tinto de la Ribera, Verdiell, and Vid de Aranda.

(Phew, I need some rehydration! I’ll let you into a little secret… I didn’t learn ALL these synonyms when I was studying for my wine Diploma, and I may have referenced Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Wine Companion a few times in doing the background research for this blog.)

Always an excellent red grape, always called something different, but always actually Tempranillo. I can’t think of any red grape that so completely dominates a country’s quality wines as Tempranillo does Spain’s – and which hides under so many aliases, with neighbouring Portugal willingly adding a couple of its own (Aaragonez, Tinto Roriz).

Tempranillo is Spain’s answer to Cabernet Sauvignon and it has become the country’s most popular red wine grape. In fact, such is its importance now, it even has its own day in the calendar: International Tempranillo Day…

No matter what it’s called, it is the core ingredient of some of my very favourite reds with the potential to make wines that range from young, fruity, and vibrant to big, deep, rich, and powerful, all the way to earthy, spicy, smooth, and mature.

 If you’ve yet to discover this…grape, I strongly urge you to give it a go. Whatever the style of red you like, there’s a Tempranillo out there for you…