In Rioja we have red tempranillo, white tempranillo (see a previous post on Inside Rioja) and now, viticulture experts Dr. Fernando Martínez de Toda and predoctoral candidate Pedro Balda from the University of La Rioja have been studying a new genetic mutation called tempranillo royo, which they have christened as ‘tempranillo gris’ or gray tempranillo.
‘Royo’ in Spanish means ‘unripe’ which could explain how it was discovered in the vineyards – grapes with white skins surrounded by others that had turned red when ripe.
While pinot blanc and pinot gris (pinot grigio in Italian), mutations of pinot noir, have been cultivated and vinified for years, mutations of tempranillo have only been recently discovered, thanks in large part to grape farmers in Rioja who would call de Toda and his fellow researcher Juan Carlos Sancha to inform them about unusual grapes in their vineyards.
Fruit of de Toda and Sancha’s research was identifying 40 rare varieties and the recent approval by the Rioja Regulatory Council of several that showed the most promise: tempranillo blanco, turruntés, maturana blanca and maturana tinta.
Balda says that the first batches of wine made with tempranillo royo have been promising. “It’s very fruity with good balance on the palate”.
In a business where several ‘international’ varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and merlot dominate wine lists, it’s refreshing to see wine regions promote other, less-known varieties such as malbec in Argentina and carmenère in Chile, although they could hardly be called ‘native’ to those regions.
Rioja made a brave decision years ago when it decided not to authorize cabernet sauvignon (mainly because it couldn’t stand up to cabernet from Bordeaux) in favor of tempranillo, although there has been a lot of controversy here about the farmers’ and wineries’ policy of planting clones of high-yielding tempranillo, which has backfired the last two years in the face of decreasing sales and the consequent buildup of inventory and price cutting.
Since Sancha and de Toda are buddies of mine, I plan to get my hands on a bottle of tempranillo royo to taste with you. The wine world needs more variety like this!
Photo credit: Antonio Díaz Uriel