Let’s Taste Tempranillo

In today’s cellar note we taste Spanish Tempranillo. We will briefly explore two wine regions, Rioja and Toro, by tasting four wines all of which we received as tasting samples. We will begin in Rioja, Spain’s best-known red wine region, and move on to Toro, which is not as well known but on the rise.

All four wines are made by the Spanish wine company called Vintae whose winemaking roots began in Rioja. Vintae now makes wine in most major Denominaciónes de Origen in northern Spain stretching from Rías Baixas to Cava (and Chile too).


Rioja is located in north central Spain in the Ebro River Valley. The region has a long history of quality wine production and was the first region to earn the designation Denominación de Origen (DO) in 1925. In 1991 Rioja became the first region to earn the Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) designation in recognition of superior quality. Priorat is the only other DOCa is Spain.

Tempranillo comprises most of the red grape plantings in Rioja and over 90% of plantings in Rioja are red wine grapes. Other allowed red varieties include Mazuelo (aka Carignan), Garnacha and Graciano. The climate is described as continental with moderating Mediterranean influences and is a very good place to acquaint yourself with Tempranillo

Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva
Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva
2013 Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva, Riojalight ruby with a touch of garnet color in the glass. Aromas of dried alfalfa, dusty earth and ripe blackberries are followed by similar flavors along with cedar notes in the background and hints of dried dill. Tannins are drying and the finish is medium in length in this medium-bodied wine. 13.5% abv. SRP $16.99

This delightful Tempranillo from Hacienda Lopez de Haro, which contains 5% Garnacha and 5% Graciano, is easy drinking and balanced. I enjoyed the combination of dried alfalfa and berry flavors along the nuanced flavors of cedar and dried dill, which add interest. It is easy to enjoy on its own and not too heavy which makes this wine as enjoyable on a warm day as on a chilly day. The price is also makes it easy to enjoy.


Toro DO lies along the Duero River in the provence of Zamora in Castilla y León. The area is characterized by a high plateau (elevations range from 2034 to 2460 feet above sea level) surrounded by mountains. Winters are very cold and summers are hot. Rainfall is greater here than in southern Spain, but drier than coastal Galicia.

Tempranillo is the predominant red variety in Toro, but it goes by another name here: Tinta de Toro. Garnacha is the other red variety used in Toro to make red wines. The Toro DO was designated in 1987, putting the region a bit behind Rioja in its wine evolution.

To say the three wines from Matsu carry interesting labels is an understatement. It’s hard to stop looking at them. Beyond the artful labels the focus of winemaking at Matsu is also of great interest to me.

The combination of a dry climate, sandy soils and very old vineyards originally attracted the team to Toro. The climate and soils mean low disease and pest pressure, which means farming can be very hands-off. In their words:

The tradition is such that there is a firm commitment to organic wines and biodynamic agriculture. This philosophy matches our technical team’s perspective to perfection, which is led by Raúl Acha, and it is one of the factors that contributed to calling their attention to this area called Toro.

Matsu El Picaro
Matsu El Picaro
2016 Matsu El Picaro, Torodense ruby in the glass with generous aromas of blackberry jam. Ripe blackberry flavors combine with those of green alfalfa and crushed flower stems. Tannins are grippy and linger on the medium-length finish. 14.5% abv. SRP $13.99

The fruit flavors are bright and interesting with the herbaceous notes in the background. The grippy tannins make this more of a food wine than a sipping wine, but I’m good with that. I enjoy the bright fruit flavors. The winery’s description of this wine: “Perfect balance between youth and ripeness.”

This wine is 100% Tinta de Toro from 50 to 70-year-old vines. Beyond the age of the vines, which is remarkable, biodynamic farming principles are followed in the vineyard. Fermentation proceeded using only natural yeasts.

Aging in concrete tank was short, a minimum of 3 months, before the wine was “bottled without filtration or any aggressive clarifier to preserve its natural characteristics,” according to the wine’s technical sheet.

Matsu El Recio
Matsu El Recio
2015 Matsu El Recio, Torodense ruby-garnet in the glass with aromas of dried blackberries and roses. Blackberry flavors along with dusty earth and dried alfalfa are supported by drying tannins that are well-integrated with the flavors. The finish is medium+ in length. 14.5% abv. SRP $21.99

The flavors and tannins are a bit more evolved in this wine over the El Picaro. It is nicely pulled together and a very enjoyable glass of wine.

Sourced from Tinta del Toro vineyards that are 90 to 100-years-old. Once again, fermentation with natural yeast only, and no filtration or aggressive clarification. Aging, this time, took place in second-use French oak for 14 months.

Matsu El Viejo
Matsu El Viejo
2015 Matsu El Viejo, Torodense ruby-garnet in the glass with generous dried blueberry, dried alfalfa and dusty earth aromas. Blueberry and blackberry flavors gain complexity with notes of black tea and dried alfalfa. Gauzy, drying tannins linger along with tobacco flavors on the finish. Abv 15%. SRP $46.99

This is a much bigger wine than the previous two. Flavors are darker and more concentrated. It is an interesting wine and begs to be paired with my favorite Tempranillo (make that Tinta de Toro) pairing: roasted lamb.

The vineyard source for this wine is more than 100-years-old. Winemaking is similar to the prior two wines, but aging is different: 16 months in new French oak.

The three Matsu wines show an interesting evolution of concentration, texture and flavors. As a whole these three wines are bigger and more concentrated than the Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva from Rioja. Every wine has its appeal. Different wine regions, different flavors. That’s how it should be.

A big thank you to 401 West Communications for the introduction to these interesting wines from Vintae.


Reference: Society of Wine Educators Certified Specialist of Wine Study Guide 2017


  1. The wines from Toro are close to my heart – they’ve come a long way since I sold them long ago! I’m excited to search for these wines in my local market. Hope they’re available here!

  2. Love Tempranillo and this post! I haven’t tried these particular wines but they sound right up my alley!