A Guide to Tempranillo Wine

October 31, 2012 Blog » Wine Tips & Tricks » A Guide to Tempranillo Wine

Tempranillo is a wildly diverse food-pairing wine that is easy to find and has a great flavor for the value. If you’ve never had Tempranillo, or have only tried it in isolated circumstances, this guide will quickly bring you up to speed and reveal a few tips that most people don’t know.

The Color and Opacity of Tempranillo Wine

Tempranillo Wine Profile

MAJOR REGIONS: Spain, Portugal, USA, Australia
Over 500,000 acres worldwide

Tempranillo Characteristics

FRUIT: cherry, plum and tomato
OTHER: leather, tobacco, vanilla, and clove
OAK: Yes. Commonly 12-18 mo. in American or French Oak
TANNIN: Medium (+)
ACIDITY: Medium (-)
ABV: 13-14.5%

Tinto del Toro, Tinta Fina & Tinto del Pais (Spain); Tinta Roriz & Aragonez (Portugal)
Rioja, Valdepeñas, Ribera del Duero, Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva


What Does Tempranillo Wine Taste Like?

When you first taste a Spanish Tempranillo you’ll get hit with the flavor of leather along with cherries. The finish is mild, smooth and lingers with tannin on both sides of your mouth. American and other New World Tempranillo delivers tons of cherry and tomato-sauce flavors followed by chunky tannin. Tempranillo can be characterized as either a medium- to full-bodied wine with red fruit characteristics. If you’ve never tried Tempranillo before you’ll find it has a similar taste profile to Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.
A Note About Body Tempranillo does taste full-bodied on good vintages with the addition of new-oak aging. However, it has thinner skins and larger grapes than Syrah so when you look at it in a glass, it will be more translucent. Because of the style of traditional oak aging in Spain, Tempranillo often has a ruddy-orange hue. While the flavor is big, the texture is usually not oily or thick.
Tempranillo Characteristics: Flavor and Body

Tempranillo Food Pairing

Tempranillo pairs with all kinds of food because it’s savory. The regional Spanish cuisine includes roasted vegetables and cured meats like the lusty Jamón Iberico de Bellota. And it’s true, Tempranillo pairs very well with the local cuisine but it works well with all kinds of cuisine.

  • Lasagna, Pizza and dishes with tomato-based sauces
  • Grits, Polenta and dishes with corn as a major ingredient
  • Mexican food such as tacos, nachos, burritos and chile rellenos
Castillo-Labastida-Riserva-Rioja2005 Bodegas Landaluce 'capricho de landaluce' rioja DOCA Spanish Tempranillo fall-line-winery-wines-washington-tempranillo

Average Price You’ll Pay for Tempranillo

$18 for a decent Rioja Crianza
Recommended Tempranillo Wines with ‘Typicity’

Tempranillo in the fall with red grape leaves in Rioja

This is Real! Rioja in the fall by Robert McKintosh

What to Look For When Buying Tempranillo

If you’re buying Spanish Tempranillo, it’s helpful to understand the labeling requirements and how they affect the flavor. There are 4 legal aging terms that are listed on most bottles of Spanish wine.

  • Vin Joven Rarely aged in oak, Vin Jovens are released young and meant to be drunk fast. These are uncommon outside of Spain
  • Crianza Reds require 2 years, with 6 months in oak. Traditionally producers use American oak which are much stronger than other types of oak (such as French oak)
  • Reserva Reds are aged 3 years with 1 year in oak. These wines are a big step up in quality and have rich, round flavor because of the minimum oak requirement.
  • Gran Reserva Reserved for wines from phenomenal vintages. Aged a minimum of 5 years before release with 18 months of oak aging. Most producers will do 20-30 months in barrel.
Cellaring Tempranillo? Check out these collectible Tempranillo producers

It’s time to expand your wine collection! The higher-end wines of Spain are not only decently priced (for the most part), but they are also very cellar worthy. Plus, as with any collectible wine, when all else fails, you can drink it!


Spanish wine collector heart attack!

Long standing producers like Vega-Sicilia have been around since the mid-1800s so accessing older vintages is possible.

  • Vega-Sicilia Ribera del Duero Unico Reserva Especial
  • Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial
  • Bodegas Muga Aro
  • Dominio Pingus Ribera del Duero
bacchus mosaic at Banos de Valdearados

hurray for the drinking god.

A Brief History of Tempranillo

The Spanish have been drinking heavily for the last 2000 years.

Proof of wine in ancient Spain was discovered in 1972, when archaeologists unearthed a mosaic of the wine god Bacchus at Baños de Valdearados in North-central Spain. Tempranillo may well have been the wine shown in the mosaic because it has been in Spain since 800 BC.
Who Brought Grapes to Spain? The Phoenicians brought wine to Southern Spain. Tempranillo originated from this area so it’s quite possible that Tempranillo is related to ancient Phoenician species in Lebanon. Tempranillo now grows most commonly in the Navarra and Rioja which are about 300 mi West of Barcelona, Spain.
International Tempranillo Day is November 8th – see www.tapas.org for more information
Find out about Spanish Wine on Catavino.net
Tempranillo on wikipedia

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By Madeline Puckette
I'm a certified sommelier and creator of the NYT Bestseller, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. Find me at @WineFolly