Spain’s top red wine, made famous by Rioja, where wines are classified (in part) by how long they age in oak. What’s amazing, is a well-made Tempranillo ages for over 20 years.
- Dried Fig
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Bolder, aged Tempranillo wines pair nicely with steak, gourmet burgers and rack of lamb. Fresher styles match well with baked pasta and other tomato-based dishes
Fun Facts About Tempranillo Wine
- Tempranillo is Spain’s number one red wine grape.
- Ever had Rioja? (“rhee-yo-ha”) This region is famous for its Tempranillo-based wines.
- Tempranillo has many common synonyms. For example, in Portugal, it’s also known as Tinta Roriz and Aragonéz.
- Well-crafted Tempranillo wines age for two or more decades.
- Tempranillo is a major blending grape used in Port (and called Tinta Roriz).
- There is a very rare white mutation of Tempranillo called Tempranillo Blanco (found in Rioja Baja!)
- In the fall, Tempranillo vineyards turn brilliant red!
- It’s possible that Central and Southern Italy has more Tempranillo than we think. Some vineyards thought to be “Malvasia Nera” turned out to be Tempranillo!
What To Look For in Tempranillo Wine
When tasting Tempranillo wines, we look for clues that indicate it was made with exceptional quality grapes. For Tempranillo, you’ll note a few things:
- While Tempranillo is not the deepest-colored red, a higher quality, youthful example will have a deep ruby-red hue with a bright red rim.
- Expect tannin levels to be high and acidity should also be noticeable (to complement the tannin).
- Fruit flavors are generally in the red fruit spectrum (red cherry, black cherry, raspberry) with subtle savory fruit notes (dried tomato, red pepper, etc).
- Top level Tempranillo wines often age in oak (American or European oak) for at least 12 months.
- While the body does not get as rich as Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo is very complex with layers of flavors from start to finish.
How Much Should You Spend?
There is a wide range of quality in Tempranillo wine. On the cheap, if you walk into a supermarket in Spain there are plastic jugs of “vino tinto” for a few Euro. That being said, top-level Tempranillo wines sell for several hundred dollars a bottle and age for decades.
Where Tempranillo Grows
A popular theory about Tempranillo’s origins is that the grape was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Phoenician civilization.
Today, the grape is well-distributed and known throughout Spain and Portugal and included in many top regional wines such as Rioja, Port, and Ribera del Duero.
Beyond Spain and Portugal, Tempranillo is hard to find.
It’s planted sparsely in Argentina, Southern France, Australia, the United States, and Mexico. Tempranillo vineyards enjoy sunny climates in elevated, protected, mountainous valley regions.
Here are some regional Tempranillo wines you must try!
TASTING NOTES: Cherry, Dill, Cigar Box, Sun-Dried Tomato, Vanilla
The Rioja region in North-Central Spain offers what many consider to be one of the world’s benchmark areas for Tempranillo. Why? Well, top quality examples from this area age tremendously well.
- At 10 years they evolve into polished red wines with rich red fruit notes.
- At 20 years they soften and subtly sweeten with nutty and dried fruit characteristics.
Still, the region is quite large (and very productive!) so there is a range of quality to be found. (Not all are meant to be aged.)
So, if you’re looking for a great place to start, consider tasting a bottle of “Reserva” Rioja and dig into the history (and style) of what this region has to offer.
Rioja uses a couple of classification systems for quality. One is through aging regime and the other is by regional specificity.
Read more about Rioja Wine.
Ribera del Duero and Toro, Spain
TASTING NOTES: Black Cherry, Blackberry Bramble, Bay Leaf, Brown Sugar, Dried Fig
In Ribera del Duero they say “10 months of winter and 2 months of hell.” The region’s extremely hot (and shorter) growing season paired with its soils (sandy clay with chalk-limestone marls) produces a richer style of Tempranillo wine. In Ribera del Duero, you’ll often find it referred to as “Tinta del País” meaning “country red.”
Up the Duero (aka Douro) river, and closer to the Portuguese border, there is also the region of Toro. In Toro, they often call Tempranillo “Tinta de Toro” and its made into a similar rich style. These wines are harder to find than Ribera del Duero (outside of Spain) and are noted for their robust, grippy tannins.
For enthusiasts and collectors of Tempranillo, Toro is a place to explore more.
There are many other great places for Tempranillo wine! Here are some interesting observations about what makes great Tempranillo “terroir.”
- Tempranillo is moderately drought-resistant and very productive. Thus, the best sites have moderately poor soils to naturally limit this productivity.
- It’s known to produce higher tannin and deeper color when grown in clay-based soils. (Although, high yields will reduce intensity.)
- Cooler nighttime temperatures cause Tempranillo bunches to stay tight which helps with tannin structure and acidity as it ripens.
- Tempranillo is a sensitive, thin-skinned grape, and generally likes protection from windy locations. It does loves the sun.