Is Tempranillo similar to Pinot Noir?

Answered by Ricardo McCardle

When I first heard the story that Tempranillo was related to Pinot Noir, I was intrigued. The idea that these two iconic grape varieties could share a genetic connection seemed fascinating. The story goes that Cistercian monks, on their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, left Pinot Noir cuttings at monasteries along the way, including in the Rioja region where Tempranillo is grown.

As a wine enthusiast, I wanted to dig deeper and find out if there was any truth to this tale. I discovered that ampelographic studies, which analyze the genetic makeup of grape varieties, have been conducted to determine the relationship between Tempranillo and Pinot Noir. Surprisingly, these studies have shown no genetic connection between the two cultivars.

This finding was quite surprising to me, as I had always assumed that Tempranillo and Pinot Noir shared some common ancestry. After all, they both produce elegant, medium-bodied red wines with distinct flavors and aromas. However, it seems that these similarities are purely coincidental.

So, if Tempranillo is not related to Pinot Noir, what is its true genetic heritage? Ampelographic studies have revealed that Tempranillo is actually a cross between two obscure Spanish grape varieties, Albillo Mayor and Benedicto. These parent grape varieties are not widely known or cultivated, but they have contributed to the unique characteristics of Tempranillo.

Despite the lack of a genetic connection, I can understand why some people might still draw comparisons between Tempranillo and Pinot Noir. Both grapes are highly versatile and can produce a range of wine styles, from light and fruity to rich and complex. Additionally, they both have thin skins, which can result in wines with lower tannins and lighter color.

In terms of flavor profiles, however, Tempranillo and Pinot Noir are quite different. Pinot Noir is known for its delicate aromas of red fruits, floral notes, and earthy undertones. Tempranillo, on the other hand, typically exhibits flavors of ripe berries, cherry, tobacco, and vanilla, with a hint of spice.

While Tempranillo and Pinot Noir may share some superficial similarities, such as their medium-bodied nature and ability to produce elegant wines, there is no genetic connection between the two cultivars. Ampelographic studies have shown that Tempranillo is actually a cross between Albillo Mayor and Benedicto, two lesser-known Spanish grape varieties. So, the legend of the Cistercian monks leaving Pinot Noir cuttings along their pilgrimage route may be just that – a legend.