Week 1 – Tempranillo

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “Week one and the pressure is on. Have I selected the right wines that will show Andy exactly what Tempranillo and Rioja is capable of? This is a complication I hadn’t quite factored into the challenge.

Here are the wines I chose: Perez Burton Rioja and Romeral Crianza Rioja.

I tried to select two close in price and not too pricey, just a touch over £10. One was from a producer I know is modern –  the “Perez Burton Rioja” by winemaker Telmo Rodriguez. He originates from Rioja, and studied winemaking in Bordeaux before returning to Spain, bringing new ideas and techniques. His wine did exactly what I hoped, it has a lively strawberry fruit aroma, then more bramble berry richness to taste, plus that lick of oak flavour giving chocolate sweetness; but all in all it is the fruit that is the star of this wine. And it has this purity in taste, plus a rich but fine texture that is the hallmark of modern styles.

And the second wine, Romeral Crianza Rioja was different from the Perez as I had hoped. The aroma was definitely more cedar noted, and spicy. The fruit wasn’t quite as showy, it was mixing in with those more savoury spicy characters that are a feature of traditional styles. I have to admit there is a year more age in this wine which does account for why the Perez Burton is more fruity, as the fruit does start to be overtaken by these other characters as it ages. I also think if we’d chosen a Reserva or Gran Reserva of the Romeral wines we’d have seen a bigger difference. When you taste those styles the fruit goes to strawberry compote and the spices get softer, more cinnamon and cocoa powder.

So what creates this difference between traditional and modern styles? Well there are lots of factors, but for me the simplest way to explain it is that modernistas try to make the wine so that the fruit flavours remain bright even as the wine ages. Sometimes traditional styles have been criticised for getting dried out and tired as they age, but to be honest I’m actually a real fan of the traditional style because I love the complexity of how all the savoury and spice notes start to overlay the fruit after time. However in this experiment I was more on the side of the Perez Burton.”

Andy says: “So week one and two Riojas / Tempranillos to taste, a modern and a classic. I didn’t know which was which and attempted to work it out following the guidelines above. I ballsed it up.

I know very little (nothing?) about wine, but I have had quite a few bottles of Rioja in my time. It’s usually smokey, smooth and creamy. Of our two, the Perez Burton was closest to what I recall as being Rioja, so I guessed it was the traditional one. It wasn’t. It was the fruitier of the two, and if I put my arty farty wine cap on, I’d say I could taste blackcurrant jam. The label informs me to taste cocoa, sorry label, but I can’t.

The Romeral by comparison, was a little ‘thinner’ and less tasty than the Perez. Again with the arty farty wine cap on, I’d say it had a little more volatile acidity (‘VA’ as the experts say. I’m probably wrong, but the way I detect VA is to get acetone-y, nail varnish remover-y notes on the nose).

A little disappointed in both (where’s the smoke?!), but of the two I’d choose the Perez.”

Buying Guidelines

Tempranillo is the main grape in Rioja. We chose this for week one as we assumed most of you would be familiar with it, and so it can be a good introduction to writing down your thoughts as the taste might be already well known.

Just in case you hadn’t clicked, the idea is that each week, within reason, we all taste the ‘same’ wine. The safest and easiest way to find a wine to match ours this week is to head to the Spanish section of the wine aisle. Find the Riojas and look for a bottle that says Tempranillo on the front or back label, as that way you can be sure it is made predominantly with that grape in the blend. If it doesn’t say Tempranillo on either label, then we can’t be sure that that is the predominant grape.

We want to taste a real “classic” Tempranillo which is aged in oak, so look for a Rioja called “Crianza” or “Reserva”. Those are terms used to mean the wine has spent some time ageing in oak.

Wineries tend to split into two style camps; traditional or modern, and we can’t be sure of the style of producer you will select. The traditional styles have gentler, sweet fruit, more cinnamon, sweet spice and savoury characters, whilst the modern style is more structured, more vibrant, blackcurrant fruit and peppery, clove-y spice. When tasting, see if you can spot which style you have.

We’ll pick up two bottles and comment on both styles. It would be impossible to guide everyone how to do the same. This way we thought that we can cover the bases so nobody should be left out.

For people who want to go slightly off the beaten track, you can pick another Tempranillo from Spain – the Ribera del Duero region makes wines from often 100% Tempranillo and can be a lovely option if you want to explore styles a little and join in that way.

27 thoughts to “Week 1 – Tempranillo”

  1. Hi all, I know I’m a bit late to the party, as you’re now on week 11, but I just wanted to ‘catch up’ by posting my brief notes on the wines you’ve already tasted and that I will be tasting over the next few weeks.

    I will be starting on week 11 with the Chenin Blanc in a day or so, and hopefully keeping up from then on; these older notes are more for my benefit as a record of all 52 grape varieties I will have tried; I’m not trying to reopen the threads and keep the older discussions going, I know it’s going to be challenging enough keeping on top of the new ones!

    Anyway, for the first wine, I chose what I hoped would be two contrasting styles.

    Wine 1 : Finca Carelio Tempranillo 2014, Vino de la Tierra (Majestic)
    Bottle says – berries, spice, leather

    The first thing I learned was that Vino de la Tierra is the Spanish equivalent to a ‘vin de pays’. It was a deep ruby-red colour and had an aromas of black fruits and berries, rather than red, but the spice and leather were spot on. As well as light to medium oak, I also got notes of damson, raspberry jam with a suggestion of pepper and liquorice, and also the dusty/earthiness that other people have found.

    It was pretty soft, and not overly tannic, with quite noticeably heavy alcohol, and had a pleasant finish. On its own, it wasn’t really interesting enough, but it complemented a Spanish meal on Mothers Day, consisting of tuna poached in red wine, with Canarian potatoes, (as it would).

    In fact the word ‘pleasant’ sums this wine up well; it was pleasant enough to drink, but I probably wouldn’t buy it again.

    Wine 2 : Vina Pomal Rioja Reserva 2013 (Majestic)
    Bottle says red fruits, oak, tobacco, truffle and spice

    It was a touch darker than the first wine. The first thing I noticed about this wine was that it was all about the oak; the oak wasn’t just another component of the wine, it was the structure that underpinned the whole thing.

    After the initial hit of oak (I really like oaked wines, so no problem there) the other flavours started to reveal themselves. The spicy red fruits (raspberry and strawberry this time) were immediately apparent, followed by the tobacco and the leather, (which was a little less flabby in this one), and then it ended with a lovely soft velvety, peppery finish.
    I admit I didn’t get the truffle at all. It was a nicely balanced wine overall; in fact by the third bottle, I had decided that I liked this wine very much indeed. (I hasten to add this was over a period of two weeks, sadly.)

    Also, I didn’t try this wine with food, as it was so nice on its own. (I did have it with a large cigar though, where it held its own very well, not sure if that counts?).

    Anyway, for about three quid more than the first bottle, this wine was definitely in a different league, and although not a ‘WOW’ wine, I would certainly buy this wine again.

    1. Hi Jason – Good to have you on board, you’ll soon catch up. We don’t close the comments, so just post when you’re ready. The more the merrier!

  2. Hi Emma and hi Andy,

    Very excited about drinking 52 grapes varieties being a new year’s resolution. It’s something i can really get behind! Thank you for suggesting it before Christmas Emma.

    So week 1 and I went for a Ribera del Duero 100% Tempranillo from Bodegas Tornes called Celeste Crianza 2014 ( from Waitrose, £11.99). Now, I’m not trained in wine so prepare so from some potentially whacky thoughts…

    The appearance was a beautiful deep, clear, dark ruby. I first sniffed it immediately after opening the bottle and was initially surprised not to smell fruit. The first impression was one of leatheryness. A strong, but appealing scent. Maybe even a hint of forest floor? After a bit of air dark berries started to come through.

    On tasting it the strength of the wine was immediately apparent, but not in a bad way. It was smooth and warming – perfect for the winter’s evening I was drinking it on. Dark berries were the primary taste, plus velvety plums. Then there was a balanced finish with hints of spices and tobacco (I think!). Was that from the oak?

    I had the bottle open for a couple of days and it definitely improved, becoming smoother and more fruity. Perhaps I should have decanted it in advance.

    Overall I thought it was lovely and dangerously drinkable. I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I also really liked the label which represented a navy night sky embossed with constellations. A strong start!

    1. Hello Will,

      Great to have you on board with the 52 grapes challenge.

      And your notes are spot on. You might be a bit of a natural at this. Leather is definitely an aroma I get from these type of wines as they age.

      I like your honesty about selecting wines by the label. I think we all do a bit of that. And with books too!

      Looking forward to hearing more about your thoughts in future weeks.


  3. I’ve never needed an excuse to drink but in a bid to appear more sophisticated with my drinking, the 52 Grapes Challenge seemed a fun albeit deluded route to self-improvement in 2018. Thank you Andy and Emma for taking us on this journey!

    It would seem the opening challenge is easy. Like Andy, I’ve drunk my fair share of Riojas and this time I didn’t even need to move my over-fed, Christmas carcass anywhere as already had a bottle of Baron de Ley Gran Reserva Rioja 2011 left from the festive season.

    I would like to say, “I selected this Rioja as it’s mainly Tempranillo, containing 10% (or less) Garnacha and aged for 24 months in oak casks” but the reality is I selected it because it’s got a nice label and a bronze sticker advertising it’s standing in the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017. In terms of cost, it came in at twenty-three pounds.

    Pouring the wine into a glass, the colour is as you’d expect ruby-red and pleasantly not too thick, given the intensity of ripe, berry fruits aromas given off. To taste, it’s complex with many flavours but left a while in the glass (and after more than one glass) warm cherry and blueberries predominate with spice and wood notes underlying. The finish is long and worth savouring.

    Overall a well-balanced and smooth wine and definitely worth having with a good meal rather than the left over Twiglets I made do with.

  4. I tried the two same Rioja’s as you…

    Perez Burton is lovely, smooth & full bodied with a great after taste.

    Romeral not to my taste. Sharp after taste and rather thin, no body to this wine.

    So I agree with you both. I’d definitely go for the Perez Burton next time.

  5. Just realised that I am late with this. Note to self – must catch up.

    I have gone for an unblended wine, Campo Viejo Tempranillo 2016, and have tasted it on its own (without accompanying food ) so that I can, hopefully, get a good imprint of the typical flavours of Tempranillo. I suppose the test ultimately will be to blind taste against other red grape varieties and be able to identify the Tempranillo.

    Years ago I remember tasting a Campo Viejo Gran Reserva (in those days aged for 7 years in oak, as opposed to 5 years for modern Gran Reservas) that was so old that it had become almost coffee in colour. By that time there was no hint of Tempranillo but the mellow and complex flavours were incredible.

    Then, in the 1980/90s, came Varietal wines. Other than in the Loire, Beaujolais, Alsace and, I think, a couple of other areas, French wine law prohibited selling individual grape varieties as quality wines. Then the Australians played fast and free by making great Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz (Syrah) and many others which the French weren’t permitted to do.

    So, the French wine industry started to produce varietal, single grape variety, wines (often very good) which they had to sell as lesser quality wines. The great thing was that this introduced the British public to the taste of individual grape varieties. So here we are in 2018 with a Tempranillo to try. Will it be as I remembered?

    Well, Bodegas Campo Viejo box very clever. The label is typically Spanish, recalls their early labels when they first entered the UK market but is bang up to date and relevant. An there is a cork! Truth is that I like a crew cap but a cork gives me the opportunity to use the fabulous corkscrew that son, Daniel bought for me.

    The bottle has been kept in the kitchen which is at an embarrassing 23C so will be warmer than it should be. ‘Room temperature’ used to be a lot cooler than these days but, hey, it should bring the fruit to the fore!

    Colour? I seem to recall that you could get colour charts that, by matching, help you to describe the wine. Best I can do will be Crown or Dulux colour matches or, perhaps, Farrow & Ball for the more expensive wines.

    It is a lovely, vibrant red colour which Pauline tells me resembles plum or damson. I am going with Dulux Redcurrant Glory (feature wall) or Crown Scrumptious©️ (feature wall). Really nice.

    Nose? Well there’s a surprise! Well, it’s clean and fresh, but given that it is a very young wine that has hardly seen the inside of a barrel (plus the heat of my kitchen), it is remarkable restrained. Bit of tobacco, some oak and some meaty fruit. Not very complex, but very inviting for a relatively young wine.

    Palate? And about time too! Fair acidity, with pleasing jammy flavours. Red currant with a hint of strawberry.

    Conclusion. This isn’t a wine to drink on its own. There is too much acidity and too little fruit for a satisfying glug. But with red meat or cheese, very nice. Lamb tonight. Woohoo!

    So, I wanted the ‘single grape Tempranillo’ experience but, for me, this wine hasn’t given me that bench mark flavour that I could pick out in a blind tasting. Perhaps I should have gone for a Gran Reserva or a great Ribero del Duero version.

  6. Not familiar with the Tempranillo grape so I decided to try a mono blend along with a varietal blend.
    Valde Lacierva Rioja Crianra 2012 :
    Approx $18 US. The nose was weak and the color dense, almost on the concord side. It was well balanced, mild tannins and stayed on the palate with no unpleasant finish. I was struggling to find fruit or earth; it left me flat. Would not recommend it. Perhaps the wine has seen better days?
    Campo Vieja Rioja Reserva 2010: At $20 US, I found this wine much more exciting. Tobacco nose, berry, licorice and vanilla flavors along with a long balanced finish. We would recommend this wine. All was not lost with this wine…

  7. Hi Emma, hi Andy
    Tempranillo was a good grape to start with I reckon. For me Rioja was my ‘in’ to the world of wine appreciation (I’m sure I’m not alone on that). Loved all that coconut-y American oak and ripe dark fruit. So for this I thought I’d go with something other than a Rioja to wake myself up a bit.

    I went for Ribera del Duero, the Heredad del Castillo from Aldi’s ‘Exquisite Collection’ range. It’s quite a young wine (2016) and only aged in oak for around three months, but the grapes are from vines over 50 years of age. It’s quite distinct in style from a classic Rioja. More concentrated and less elegant. In all honestly, I’d say this wine shows a better quality of fruit than many Riojas, but I’m definitely at the cheap end of the RdD scale here, so can’t expect miracles.

    The wine’s VERY dark in colour. Inky and opaque, with just a hint of black cherry juice around the rim. There’s some sweet dark fruits on the nose – strawberry jam, boozy preserved cherries, poached plums – and a decent a hit of spice (a sort of leftover mulled wine vibe) with even a hint of tar beneath that.

    Better on the palate: medium-full in style, quite fresh and grippy at first, but then nicely mouthcoating and ending towards voluptuous afterwards, finishing with a decent balance of tannins, dryness and richness. The poached strawberry thing comes through, backed by baking spice and a hint of Old World dusty Spanish earthiness.

    I actually left this for a day after opening before finishing my notes as is my experience Tempranillo wines (certainly Riojas) open up better with plenty of air. It didn’t have such a profound affect on this wine, although the textures and flavours were a bit more focused on day two.

    In conclusion this is a good value and solid ‘introductory’ example of the Tempranillo grape outside of Rioja. Certainly makes me want to try more Ribera Del Duero reds. But I think I’ll spend a bit more next time.

    1. Hey Will,

      Thanks for your comments. You put all our tasting notes to shame; very lyrical. Especially like the “leftover mulled wine” – that is a new one to me.

      And it is great to have a Ribera region Tempranillo added to the mix. I really love that style. The region has good altitude which helps the wines have fresh aromas and flavours which makes their styles often a bit more elegant than Rioja.

      Oh and for your question on tannin. We are about to publish my very geeky page which explains a lot of technical terms and should cover that subject. Andy is nursing a cold and so as soon as he recovers we’ll have it up and running. Watch this space…


    2. Hey Will,

      Just a quick note to let you know the “Wine terminology” page is up and running. So you should get a full answer to your tannin question now.

      Although feel free to come back if it doesn’t answer what you wanted.


  8. I had a bottle of Campo Viego Rioja. Could really detect the tannins on first taste, but was very smooth and went well with cheese. Not my usual buy but would definitely get again. Looking forward to broadening my choice of ?over the year!

  9. You’ve inspired me to open a bottle of Izadi Reserva Rioja 2012! 100% Tempranillo 16 months in oak. Very pristine modern style
    I love the way the oak tannins grab you.
    This grape has an elegant way of lapping up oak! And is great value compared to Bordeaux of similar ageing and oak regime which would likely be twice the price!

    1. Dror, I’m intrigued by your reference to ‘oak tannins’. Can you explain what these are and how you distinguish them from fruit tannins (my understanding is tannins come from the grape’s skins, pips and occasionally stalks?). Any pointers would be handy. Ta.

  10. Hi, we are loving the idea of trying new wines but would like to make a suggestion which we feel would really help with wine appreciation. Can we have suggestions of suitable foods to have with wines that aren’t too obscure i.e. great with smoked foods, white fish, stews etc etc. Wine tastes so different when paired with certain wines and this tip would really help?

  11. Hello, so I’ve gone for a Rioja from The Wine Society- ‘Urbina Reserva Especial Rioja 2001’.
    A dark ruby red colour. So smooth and easy to drink. Had with lamb shanks but could so easily drink this on it’s own too. I’m not great at detecting and identifying tastes but definitely got red berry fruits, perhaps cherry at a push
    Will definitely buy this again….perhaps a case rather than one bottle

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