If you ask wine lovers to name a Spanish red grape, I bet that most will say Tempranillo. It's the primary grape of Rioja and Ribera del Duero (where it's known as Tinto Fino), but it's planted all over the peninsula, and it can make anything from cheap, easy-drinking wine to highly-structured reds that need years of aging to show their best. You can even make rosé from it.
As the most-planted red variety, Tempranillo dominates Spain in a way that has no precedent in the rest of Europe. It's the national grape. Compare this with Italy, where the grapes are regional—such as Nebbiolo in Piedmont, Sangiovese in Tuscany and Aglianico in Campania—or Portugal, which has so many different varieties that some farmers have no idea what they're growing.
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Spain seems to lack these native riches. The Tempranillo takeover of Spain began in the 1970s, as other regions tried to ape the success of Rioja. French varieties, too, were introduced, most notably in Catalonia by the Torres family. In 1979 their Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon beat Chateau Latour in a blind tasting conducted by the Gault-Millau restaurant guide. The future for Spanish red in the '90s appeared to be either Tempranillo or international—i.e., French varieties. Spain, it seemed, just didn't have the depth of native talent.