If you’ve ever drunk a glass of Rioja – and most wine lovers will at some time – then you’ve tasted Tempranillo. It’s the main grape variety used in almost every red Rioja, sometimes standing alone, more often blended with Garnacha (aka Grenache) and other local varieties. Tempranillo isn’t limited to this one region, it’s grown in several countries across the world. There’s plenty in Portugal (where it’s known as Tinta Roriz or Aragonez) and a little in France. California, Argentina and Australia have some, too, but it’s native to Spain and that’s where we find the majority of the plantings.
Few would dispute that it’s Spain’s best as well as their most popular grape – and not just in Rioja. For example, 60 miles (100km) south-west of Rioja, on Spain’s high central plateau, is the region of Ribera del Duero where the red wines are made from Tinto Fino or Tinto del Pais, both synonyms for Tempranillo. Here, in vineyards at altitudes averaging 2800 ft (850m) above sea level, conditions are very different from Rioja and, as a result, you find an entirely different expression of Tempranillo. Momo’s Vendimia Seleccionada (Wine Society, £13.50) is typical. Rich and concentrated with lovely intense red fruits, a hint of spicy oak and a long savoury finish, this is fuller bodied than many Riojas as might be expected from the 14% alcohol.
Ribera del Duero tends to have hotter summer days than Rioja, allowing the grapes to become riper but, on the other hand, the altitude means that nights can be really cool, preserving precious acidity in the fruit and giving the wines the attractive freshness that was certainly a feature in this example.
As with many Spanish wines, the Momo is particularly food-friendly: team with grilled or roasted red meat or game or your Easter lamb to enjoy this delicious Tempranillo at its best.