Who’s Your Daddy?: Tempranillo

The “Who’s Your Daddy” series takes a brief look at the parentage of grapes, in order to get a better understanding of where particular varietals come from and how they are genetically related to one another.  So far, we’ve covered: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Pinotage, Gamay, Petite Sirah, and Merlot.  Feel free to click on any one of the varietal names to read all about their parentage.


The subject of today’s “Who’s Your Daddy” post is Tempranillo, a grape that for some reason always makes me roll my r’s a little bit longer than I probably should!


The name “Tempranillo” is well accepted to be derived from the word “temprano”, meaning early, which is likely related to the early ripening of the grape.  The word “Tempranillo” was recorded only sporatically through its early history, but it’s thought that the grape has been around at least since the 13th century and perhaps earlier.  Tempranillo hails originally from Spain, and has been the predominant grape in wines from both Rioja and Ribera del Duero.  In fact, Tempranillo is mostly grown in Spain, though you will find Tempranillo vineyards in other small corners of the world, including the United States, South America, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, and a few others.

After spending potentially hundreds of years in Spain, the grape may made its way to (*Edit: South) America some time during the 17th century by the Spanish Conquistadors.  More than likely, the Conquistadors brought the vines over by seed, which allowed the grape to slowly establish itself in places that were more hospitable to the conditions needed for optimal growth.  Tempranillo finally reached the west coast of the United States by the early 1900s, though it took some time for it to popularize and establish due to its “disagreement” with the growing conditions of the area and its desired viticultural requirements.


For ideal ripening and development, Tempranillo vines prefer hot days and cool nights, a combination that is not found in every viticultural growing area.  *Edit: A great comment left by Earl at the end of this post reminded me that another very important characteristic of Tempranillo viticulture is that it has a short growing season.

Tempranillo does best in calcareous clay soils, though also does well in soils rich in iron, chalk, and limestone.  As with many grapes, sloping terrain is beneficial for drainage, and it tends to do well at higher altitudes.

Tempranillo is prone to attack by a variety of pests and diseases, since it does not have immunity to any sort of ailment.  Though the thick dark skin provides some protection again disease, the very tight cluster formation is very attractive for critters than want to set up camp and go to town on the grapes and grapevines.

Sensory Characteristics

Tempranillo is often used in blends (think Rioja, etc), though is thought to be the solid backbone of these blends to provide color and unique flavor contributions to the finished wine.  Anthocyanin levels in Tempranillo grapes are very high, which explain the deep red color of the wine.

In younger Tempranillo wines, the grapes of which were grown in cooler climates, the aromatic profile tends to consist of red fruit flavors, including strawberries, black currants, and cherries.  On the other hand, in older wines, the grapes of which were grown in hotter climates, the aromatic profile is reminiscent of prunes, chocolate, and tobacco.  Tempranillo also often has a characteristic “earthy minerality” to its flavor profile.

In regards to structure, Tempranillo wines tend to be low in acidity, with moderate to high levels of tannin and moderate levels of alcohol.  As a result of these characteristics, Tempranillo has a generally smooth mouthfeel, as well as rich aromas and flavors.  Finally, Tempranillo is known to do very well in oak, as the vanilla and coconut characteristics of the oak complement the fruit and minerality components of the Tempranillo wine very well.

So, Tempranillo….”Who’s your daddy?”…

We know where Tempranillo came from originally, however, which grapes gave rise to the Tempranillo grape to begin with?

Researchers at the CSIC Universidad de La Rioja, Gobierno de La Rioja and the Instituto Madrileño de Investigación y Desarrollo Rural, Agrario y Alimentario (IMIDRA) recently uncovered the genetic origins of Tempranillo by genotyping analysis for SNP and microsatellite markers in grapevine germplasm collections and published their work just one month ago in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture.

Without further ado, I present to you the genetic parents of Tempranillo:

Albillo Mayor…..









Tempranillo grapes: http://www.wineaccess.com/graphics/grapeimages/tempranillo.jpg









Neither of these grapes is particularly well known in the United States, though Albillo Mayor is still well-established in the Iberian Peninsula of Spain.  Benedicto, on the other hand, is rarely cultivated today and is not very well known even in the historical record.

There you have it!  If you’d like to learn about the parentage of another grape variety, simply leave a comment below and I’ll see what I can dig up!  Note: there are many grape varieties with unknown parentage still, but I’ll try my best to find data that may suggest particular relationships and origins.  This type of genetic research is ongoing, so even if I can’t find information on a particular grape of your choosing today, that may change in the future!


(Citation for the genetics research article: Ibáñez, J., Muñoz-Organero, G., Zinelabidine, L.H., de Andrés, M.T., Cabello, F., and Martínez-Zapater, J.M. 2012. Genetic origin of the grapevine cultivar Tempranillo. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture. ajev.2012.12012 published ahead of print August 17, 2012.)

(Source for article citing possible introduction of Tempranillo seeds to South America: http://www.ejbiotechnology.info/content/vol6/issue3/full/11/index.html)


10 comments for “Who’s Your Daddy?: Tempranillo

  1. Paul R. Ellis
    September 29, 2012 at 1:12 am

    While I understand that you are not a sommelier or vigneron and your description of the wines (such as Nebbiolo being dark) have been corrected (and with your kind indulgence); this is very interesting material, indeed. I look forward to more of your journeys into ampelography and will add my comments to aid this site. Thanks for your information and modesty.

    • Becca
      September 29, 2012 at 8:05 am

      Thank you for your kind comments, Paul!

      My strength is certainly in the science, and I am more than happy to have others add their comments on things that I may have missed, things that may need elaboration, or things that one otherwise agrees with but just wants to comment!

      I hope you’ll continue to enjoy my posts!


  2. WineKnurd
    September 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    After a slight delay imposed by “real life” and my “day job”, I am finally able to read an article and post again! First off, Becca, congrats on the scholarship and trip to the wine bloggers conference. I hope that this is the first step for you and TAW on a new and exciting journey in wine writing! Second, like the site redesign. Thirdly, a former coworker of mine was from Barcelona and I absolutely loved the way she rolled her r’s when pronouncing Tempranillo, Garnacha, and especially Xarello (or really any word with “r’s”, since I cannot roll an “r” to save my life).

    Fourthly, I was inspired by your post and decided to try and find any additional information regarding Albillo Mayor and Benedicto, what the grapes are used for today, what wines they might be blended in, etc. I couldn’t find any additional information on Benedicto, but did find that Albillo Mayor is “neutral in flavor and has higher levels of glycerol” (Oxford Companion to Wine), which can add perceptible sweetness and smoothness to wines. I also found it described as both a white grape and a light skinned grape, while your picture shows a red grape, but further research suggests that “Albillo” is an umbrella term that encompasses a few distinct varieties of grapes grown around Spain.

    I also found this great post on the Fringe Wine blog,
    http://fringewine.blogspot.com/2012/08/albillo-castilla-y-leon-spain.html, which had I gone there first would have saved me some time on google. He did alot of the research and actually tastes an Albillo wine, though its exact sub-variety was not clear. His notes do not suggest higher glycerol levels nor neutral flavors as per the OCW, but there does not seem to be enough information for any correlation between the OWC and the wine tasted.

    Might be worth linking to his post in your post and adding the site to your blogroll as well.

    • Becca
      October 2, 2012 at 11:17 am

      I though you’d dropped off the face of the planet! How dare you let your “real life” get in the way! haha! Kidding! I completely understand!

      1: I had a great time at the Wine Bloggers Conference, and I think it certainly opened a few doors for me.
      2: Thanks! I love the redesign as well! I’ve been wanting a change for a while, but hadn’t had the time (nor the guts) to actually go through with it until recently. It’s much more streamlined, and it seems as though the number of visitors I have every day has increased a little since then!
      3: rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! 😉
      4: In regards to Benedicto, I couldn’t really find anything either. In fact, I had to post a picture of Tempranillo itself, since I was coming up short on actual photos of Benedicto. From what I did read, it sounds as though it’s extremely rare.
      4.5: Thanks for the tip about adding the Fringe Wine blog to my blogroll. It seems like a really interesting site, and one that I may reference from time to time when writing these “Who’s Your Daddy” posts. I’ve since added it to the ‘roll!

      Hope all is well, and hope life doesn’t take you away for too long again in the near future!

  3. September 30, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Hi Becca
    That tempranillo made it to America with the Spanish Conquistadors is logical and I want to believe that you are right. But i have in my own research found no evidence to support this theory. I am very curious and would love to see documentation of when and how it arrived in the new world.
    Also, you stated that tempranillo vines prefer hot days and cool nights (certainly an attribute of Rioja and Ribera del Duero) but omitted another climate factor of those areas, a short growing season (characterized by a cool spring, hot summer and short cool autumn) that I summit may be of equal or greater importance to quality wine production.

    • Becca
      September 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm

      Hi Earl!

      Thanks for your comments! I couldn’t find too much evidence regarding the Conquistadors, but there were a couple of similar blog posts that had mentioned it. I admit it wasn’t a peer-reviewed article, but that it was just conjecture from other similar sources to mine. I will edit to say that it “may” have arrived to America via the conquistadors.

      Thanks for the addition of the short growing season. I’m certain I miss characteristics here and there in these types of posts, particularly since I’m not at all an expert with regards to each grape, so I love it when someone is able to add to the knowledge!

    • Becca
      September 30, 2012 at 7:47 pm

      Hi again, Earl,

      Just a follow up on my previous comment. I nearly forgot there was this one article that talked about how Spanish “conquerors” may have brought seeds along with them to Argentina, since soon after vines were being planted in that region. Here’s the article: http://www.ejbiotechnology.info/content/vol6/issue3/full/11/index.html

      I suppose South America is part of the “Americas”, though often people think of the United States when they hear the word “America”. I hope this article helps.

  4. WineKnurd
    September 30, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    Actually, a small reference was made regarding the growing season, as it is mentioned that the name derives from “temprano”, relating to its early ripening. As a comparison, Merlot is said to ripen a week before its noble partner Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux, but Tempranillo ripens a full three weeks before other Spanish grapes like Garnacha, its blending partner in Rioja. Now that’s early!

    • Becca
      September 30, 2012 at 9:08 pm

      That is true, I did say that, didn’t I! 😉 Thanks for clarifying the 3 week time frame 🙂

  5. WineKnurd
    September 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Drinking a Tempranillo blend tonight Becca, in honor of the post. Interesting 85% Tempranillo and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon blend, the 2008 Aliaga “Cuvee” from the Navarra region (Rioja’s eastern neighbor). Cheers!

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