Birth of a New Varietal: Tempranillo Blanco
Tempranillo Blanco is a relative newcomer to the world of wine.
In 1988, a viticulturist discover a mutation amidst his Tempranillo vineyard that was about to be uprooted in Murillo de Río Leza. Upon finding a bunch of white grapes on a single Tempranillo vine, the viticulturist brought this mutation to the attention of Agrarian Research and Development (CIDA) of the Government of La Rioja. Together they recognized the potential to expand the development of white varieties in Rioja with this discovery.
The occurrence of a white variety appearing from a red variety is actually quite rare. But when it happens, there is great potential for a variety to develop with significant enological interest. For example, consider the cases of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc or Garnacha Tinta and Garnacha Blanca. These are white mutations that have risen to considerable popularity in the world of wine. Needless to say, the Tempranillo Blanco mutation offered a considerable opportunity to elevate and differentiate Rioja wines on the market.
The Variety: Tempranillo Blanco
Tempranillo Blanco shares many morphological and developmental characteristics with Tempranillo and also has a few differences. Comparatively, Tempranillo Blanco has smaller, looser, and less elongated bunches. This variety also has fewer but larger seeds than Tempranillo. Clusters of Tempranillo Blanco are typically medium-sized and loose with a short peduncle and its berries are small to medium-sized with a slightly flattened shape. You can expect medium to high vigor, high fertility, and medium production from this variety.
Starting with an early bud break, Tempranillo Blanco has a short cycle. Careful attention must be paid as harvest approaches because this variety exhibits a very rapid accumulation of sugars in its final stages of development. Attentive monitoring of sugar accumulation is especially important in warmer years or in regions with warmer temperatures. Since Tempranillo Blanco ripens early, this variety adapts well to a wide range of production areas.
This is a variety with low resistance to high temperatures and water stress. Tempranillo Blanco responds well to a short pruning system. Due to wind sensitivity, trellising is advisable. Tempranillo Blanco has a similar sensitivity to disease and pests as Tempranillo, including a low sensitivity to botrytis and a high susceptibility to acariosis (mites and parasites) and cluster moths.
Tempranillo Blanco typically demonstrates high alcoholic strength, total acidity, tartaric and malic acids, and total polyphenols. Yet it’s this variety’s balance between acidity, alcohol, and polyphenol content that make it suitable for production of both young wines and those intended for barrel aging.
Depending on the season, Tempranillo Blanco exhibits millerandage. This occurs when there is an abnormally high proportion of green ovaries that do not ripen and of seedless, small berries. The cumulative result of which is overall lower yields. This effect is associate with the low fertility of Tempranillo Blanco’s pollen combined with unfavorable climactic conditions, such as heavy rainfall, humidity, and lower temperatures around the vine’s flowering period.
Genetic conducted at the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (ICVV – Instituto de Ciencias de la Vid y del Vino) demonstrated that Tempranillo Blanco mutation lost the genetic information that normally causes grape skins to accumulate anthocyanin pigment. Additionally, research found that in the absence of pigments, the development of flavanols are favored. An increase in aromatic compounds known as monoterpenes also occurs.
Researchers found that there was a greater loss of genetic information in the Tempranillo Blanco mutation than had ever been observed up until now. This process is the result of a spontaneous reorganization of genetic information which had previously only occurred in animals and had not yet been observed in plants.
The variety’s genetic reorganization decreased the fertility of Tempranillo Blanco’s gametes. Thus, decreasing its ability for proper fruit set. Where the pollen grains of red Tempranillo are 80-90% viable, for Tempranillo Blanco the viability decreases to 30%. This is sufficient in production areas with low relative humidity and higher temperatures. However, research found that millanderage in Tempranillo Blanco is directly related to relative humidity during flowering and inversely related to temperature. This research indicates that the low fertility of gametes reduces the fruit set under adverse weather conditions.
Why It Matters
Genetic research on Tempranillo Blanco showcases the potential to optimize production of this variety. In recent years, researchers have conducted studies on the red and grey variants of Tempranillo spontaneously appearing in vineyards of Rioja. Such studies have allowed them to further isolate the cultivars in which the loss of genetic information results in the loss of anthocyanin pigmentation but does include the reorganization of genetic information that decreases the fertility of gametes. Researchers have discovered certain grey Tempranillo lines with these qualities. These can serve as a basis for producing Tempranillo Blanco with a fruit set that is less susceptible to unfavourable weather conditions. Therefore, making Tempranillo Blanco more productive.
Tempranillo Blanco in the Glass
Typically, Tempranillo Blanco shows a medium intensity, straw yellow-green color in the glass. This is a white variety with potentially pronounced aromatics, including fruity notes of apple, pear, pineapple, banana, and citrus. Intense floral aromas are also characteristic of intense floral aromas. Expect a balanced palate with good structure and persistence. In addition to producing young and barrel aged examples, producers in Rioja have also experimented with sparkling wines and distillates of Tempranillo Blanco. These varying styles highlight the vast potential of Tempranillo Blanco and its ability to gain market share for white wines of Rioja.
We don’t often have the opportunity to experience the birth of a new variety. So, the rise of Tempranillo Blanco is special, Varietal registration and authorization of cultivation were achieved through the Rioja DOCa Regulatory Council after twenty years of selection, multiplication, and viticultural and oenological tests TWENTY YEARS. This dedication, passion, and commitment to cultivating minority varieties is why I love supporting producers doing the work through my Rare Varieties series.
Viña Ijalba is committed to the quality, differentiation, and defence of Rioja wine heritage. Founded in 1991, this family-owned winery has long worked to preserve and innovate with traditional varieties of Rioja. With the help of their partners in Rioja, including the Regulatory Council of the Rioja DOCa, the University of Rioja, and the Rioja government, they created an experimental vineyard to cultivate around 100 minority varieties, 70 of which were autochthonous to Rioja. This project led to Viña Ijalba becoming the first to market single varietal wines of Tempranillo Blanco, Maturana Tinta, Maturana Blanca, and Graciano. They were also the first ecological certified winery in Rioja.
Singular and ecological vineyards, mineral soils, and unique cultivars give Viña Ijalba wines their signature, distinctive style.
Viña Ijalba Tempranillo Blanco
- 100% Tempranillo Blanco
- Blended with 15% barrel-aged wine
- Medium intensity straw yellow color with green reflections
- Medium + intensity fruity and floral aromas, including honeysuckle, apple, pineapple, banana, pear, jasmine
- Very feminine and perfumed aromas
- Medium bodied, medium acidity, dry, pineapple and citrus coming through on the palate, a tart citrus finish
- Medium flavor intensity & primary fruit flavors of pineapple, banana, and citrus
- Medium + finish, very good quality and can drink now