In DO Toro, in Spain’s southwest, Tempranillo is called Tinta de Toro. In Ribera del Duero it can be referred to as Tinto Fino or Tinta del pais. In Do la Mancha it is often called Cencibel, or in Catalonia, Ull de Llebre. The most common name used for Spain’s indigenous and best known grape variety is of course Tempranillo, thought to be derived from temprano (early), due to its tendency to ripen earlier than other grape varieties.
Although this all sounds a little odd (why not just give the thing a common name we can all use!?), winemakers believe this conveys the concept that Tempranillo has an ability to adapt over centuries to different terroirs, or terruños as it is known in Spain, and climatic conditions to express an identity and character specific to each place of origin. Some liken it to Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir in the sense that it can take on minute variations in terroir.
As an example, Tinta de Toro bunches and grapes are smaller than those of the Tempranillo found in Rioja. With skins twice as thick and darker in colour, they have adapted to the greater temperature of the Duero Valley. The result is a very dark, inky colour; exuberant aromas, very expressive, concentrated flavours and one of the most powerfully structured wines from Spain.
In order to tame the beast, producers blend selected parcels from certain vineyards to achieve better balance, and many are now holding back release to market for a year or two to give the wines more time to mellow. Better winemaking allows for a wine to be crafted that is no longer over-extracted, over-oaked or too high in alcohol. Elegance and poise is the name of the game these days, although the beast still rears its head from time to time. Or at least a slightly more refined beast.