What is White Tempranillo? Have you even heard of it before?
Let’s get one thing straight from the start, it has nothing to do with White Zinfandel. That is a white wine made from red grapes and often in a fruity style.
Tempranillo Blanco, or White Tempranillo, is a relatively ‘new’ grape. It is the result of a natural mutation of the more common ‘red’ Tempranillo, and was discovered on a vine in a vineyard in Murillo de Rio Leza in 1988 by the owner, Jesús Galilea Esteban. DNA analysis proved that this really was tempranillo, but that a natural ‘albinism’ had affected the genes relating to the skin colour that resulted in a yellow/green skin pigmentation instead of the usual blue/purple.
You can read a few more details on the Wikipedia page, ungenerously listed under the title “Tempranillo White Mutant”
Rioja only allows a small number of “official” grapes to be used for its wines, but as this grape was effectively “born” in Rioja, they could hardly not allow it. However, it took a few years of testing by the official Rioja regulatory bodies first. They took the cutting, grew the plant, used this to take more cuttings and so on, until they had a small number of vines from which to produce grapes and test the resulting wine.
The initial results were positive, so a limited number of producers, including Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco, were allowed limit plantings of the vines as “experimental” varieties. This too was successful and finally, in 2007, Tempranillo Blanco was approved as a minority variety in white wine blends.
Of course wineries need to grow the grapes first before they can make the wines, and it takes around 3 years to mature a young vine enough to produce good grapes. However, the pioneers of this production have now started to see the benefit of the early investment and so in 2010 and 2011 some Tempranillo Blanco will start to appear in bottles of Rioja white wines, although it is still planted in tiny quantities exclusively in Rioja.
According to Dinastia Vivanco:
Tempranillo Blanco wines offer intense fruity aromas, with banana, green apple, citrus and floral characters.
Whilst Tom Perry, of Inside Rioja, tasted one of the very first versions of this wine which I think was aged in acacia wood barrels for a period and reported:
The wine was surprisingly tasty: straw yellow color, a nose that combined citrus, butter and dried apricots which reminded me a little of viognier if it weren’t for the citrus. It had a medium mouthfeel, and tasted citrusy with apricots along with a little black licorice.
I look forward to seeing what producers do with it and to tasting as many as I can.