My boyfriend told me that the best Tempranillo he ever had was from Spain. Given that Tempranillo comes from Spain, I thought that made sense. But it led me to do some research to see why Spanish Tempranillo is so good. Thank you to Wine Folly and Food & Wine for their help with this article.
Tempranillo is Spain’s #1 wine grape. It is a red wine produced from the grape of the same name. In the so-called New World, it’s likely to be labeled Tempranillo. But on Spanish labels, the name of the region is more likely to appear. It’s important to know that the vast majority of red wines from Rioja are Tempranillo blends (often times, blended with Garnacha or Grenache), and most of the great reds of Ribera del Duero are entirely Tempranillo.
In Portugal, the grape is called Tinta Roriz. It is used as a blending grape in Port. Lately, full-bodied, single-varietal examples are gaining traction in Dão and in the Alentejo, where the grape is commonly labeled as Aragonez.
A number of New World producers are doing Tempranillo – most notably Argentina, California (Inland Valleys) and Texas. Wine Folly believes that the off-the-beaten-path areas most worth looking at are “Southern Oregon and Rogue Valley as the terroir there lends to wines that can be just as rich and peppery as their Spanish equivalents.”
The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish temprano, meaning “early,” which is fitting as it ripens earlier than other grapes native to Spain.
What Does Tempranillo Taste Like?
According to Food & Wine, “Tempranillo’s notes of brambly berries, cherries, and, in warmer climates and vintages, plums, find counterpoints in sweet and occasionally woodsy spice and hints of cigar tobacco. Its tannic structure allows it to age for a relatively long time, depending on how it’s been grown and vinified. As it ages, Tempranillo tends to take on more savory characteristics, like leather, cigar humidor, and earth.”
In addition to heavy cherry notes, you are likely to pick up hints of dried fig, cedar and dill.
Bolder, aged Tempranillo wines pair nicely with steak, gourmet burgers and racks of lamb. Fresher styles match well with baked pasta, roasted vegetables, hearty pastas and even Mexican food.
A youthful Rioja with a plate of Spanish ham is terrific, and alongside Manchego cheese, it makes for a perfect late-afternoon snack.
- In love with fall foliage? Tempranillo is one of the few varieties where the leaves turn bright red in the fall!
- Besides the gorgeous color, tempranillo vines are easy to identify because of their jagged, deep-lobed leaves.
- There is a small, white mutation of Tempranillo called Tempranillo Blanco that can be used in White Rioja. Tempranillo Blanco wines are early to ripen like their red counterparts and are known for their tropical fruit flavors.
- With global warming, Tempranillo is likely to become a more important part of the literal and figurative landscape, given its ability to thrive in heat.
- Tempranillo is a very old variety. It is believed that Tempranillo was introduced to Spain and Portugal by the Phoenicians over 3,000 years ago.
- Tempranillo is the fourth-most planted variety in the world and is considered one of the nine red noble grapes.
- When you’re looking for Tempranillo, you might come across terms like Roble/Tinto, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. These are aging terms, ranging from little to no oak all the way up to 18-24 months with an additional four years of bottle aging. As a general rule, the more oak, the better the quality, and the more you should expect to pay accordingly.
Have you tasted great Spanish Tempranillo? How about great Tempranillo from other areas? I’d love to hear about your experiences.