The adaptation of viticultural techniques and vinification methods has resulted in the development of various new and exciting Spanish wines. This applies especially to the wines of Rioja, Duero and Priorato. These wines have also had interesting repercussions on the wine market. One cultivar that features in all of these wines, Tempranillo, also known as Tinta Roriz, definitely played an important role. It is being used increasingly in experiments by Californian winemakers.
World-wide the surface planted to Tempranillo exceeds that of Chardonnay. In California it has doubled from the mid 1990s to 2003, although in absolute terms it is still very little indeed.
The name of the cultivar is derived from the Spanish word "temprano", meaning "early". In general it is an early cultivar with a high pH and low fixed acid content. It has a thick skin that is able to offer much colour and tannins. If it is picked too early, the wines can be very harsh and unbalanced. Consequently it is picked at a sugar content above 24 Brix, with an accompanying pH of 3.3 to 3.6. Different clones are available to be used depending on climatic conditions. It is a vigorous grower and should preferably be planted on meagre, well-drained soils. Growth limiting rootstocks, such as 110R, 5BB, SO-4 and 1103 Paulsen are recommended as well as an upright trellis system. Wide vine spacing is also common. Tempranillo flowers more or less the same time as Pinot noir and in addition to normal shoot thinning, bunches should also be thinned out throughout the entire growing season. Up to 75 % of the original bunch mass has to be removed. In order to ensure wine quality, yields should be restricted to approximately 3.5 tons per acre (7 tons per hectare).
In the cellar it is an easy grape with which to work. Fermentation on the skin until completely dry lasts 7 to 11 days and some producers prefer to ferment whole grapes from part of the crop. Because the wines are so rich in tannins, barrel maturation is essential. Although 14 months is considered the minimum period, the barrel maturation usually lasts from 18 to 24 months. In Spain American oak is traditionally used, but Californian winemakers do it differently and normally use varying ratios of American and French oak.
The use of Tempranillo in blends is another interesting option offered by the cultivar. In Spain it is usually blended with Graciano, Grenache, Carignane or Mourvédre. Graciano is probably the most interesting combination seeing that this indigenous Spanish cultivar has specific flavour characteristics as well as a lower pH than Tempranillo. Other cultivars with which it may also be blended, are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
After bottling one year's bottle maturation is usually allowed before release. (1)
According to SAWIS statistics (2) Tempranillo accounted for 0.06 % of all red cultivars in South Africa, based on surface, on 30 November 2004. It was therefore the 22nd most planted red cultivar in South Africa. Approximately two thirds of it occurred in the Paarl and Malmesbury districts. Based on vines that were uprooted and planted during the 2004 season, the surface increased by 7 hectares.
At the moment only one clone, TP 4 of the NIVV, is currently available in South Africa, but clone FPS 03, imported from Davis, California, in 2005, is still in quarantine.
In South Africa it ripens late midseason, with a high fixed acid content at a high sugar content. It is sensitive to diseases and not very well adapted to drought and high temperatures.
1. Sawyer, C. 2005. Wine Business Monthly 12(5): 34-39
2. SAWIS. Statistics of Grapevines as on 30 November 2004
3. Visser, C. 2006. Personal communication