Tempranillo Wine Breakdown
Shimmering deep ruby in the glass and boasting a balance of ripe fruit and savory flavors, soft tannins, and a smooth structure, Tempranillo is the often unsung hero of Rioja wine.
Read the full breakdown of this elegant, juicy, spice-infused Spanish red wine to see what you’ve been missing!
Where Does Tempranillo Wine Come From?
Mainly produced in its native country of Spain, Tempranillo is a dry, medium-bodied mellow red wine made from thick black-skinned grapes. Its name translates to “early,” which refers to Tempranillo grapes’ shorter ripening period. Due to its balanced flavor profile, Tempranillo is commonly used as a blending grape, primarily paired with Grenache.
While Spain’s first vine cuttings of Tempranillo may date back to the early 19th century, historians believe the grape could have appeared as early as 2,000 years ago. Regions like Ribera del Duero have an extended winemaking history, where Tempranillo is one of the most essential varietals. Some records show Tempranillo has grown on the Iberian Peninsula (between Spain and Portugal) since ancient Phoenician settlements.
Tempranillo is also found in Portugal, where it is used to craft the country’s famously fortified dessert wine, Port. However, you won’t hear it called by its Spanish name here. In Portugal, this wine is referred to as “Tinta Roriz” or “Aragonez.”
Now that we know where Tempranillo comes from, what does this red wine grape taste like?
What Does Tempranillo Wine Taste Like?
While this wine brings the heat with its alcohol content, it’s characterized by soft tannins and acidity with a smooth balance of juicy dark fruit flavors and savory, smoky undertones. Tasting notes include black cherry, dried fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill.
Tempranillo is aged in oak barrels, which gives the wine those rich cedar notes. However, there is a difference between French oak and American oak when it comes to flavor.
American oak aging gives the wine a sweeter taste with added notes of caramel and vanilla. French oak tends to provide subtler hints of dry pepper. Most Tempranillo is aged in American oak barrels.
While Tempranillo isn’t as robust as red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, its flavor profile is no less complex. The leading quality that sets this wine apart from other varietals like Merlot, Sangiovese, and Pinot Noir is that it is less aromatic with subtly blended flavors.
We’ve looked at the flavor profile of Tempranillo. Now, let’s take a look at where those tasting notes come from.
The Tempranillo red grape grows best in relatively higher altitudes and is well-suited for hot and cool climates. It is greatly influenced by the climate and terroir (soil) in which it grows. If more acidity is what you crave in your wine, then cool climate Tempranillo is for you. When grown in hotter climates, the wine tends to be much sweeter.
Regarding terroir, this grape varietal thrives in chalky soils, like those found in its main wine region, Ribera del Duero.
As you can see, there are different types of Tempranillo wine depending on where it’s grown, but there’s one more special type we have yet to uncover.
In the late 1980s, winemakers discovered a mutation of the red Tempranillo grape in the Rioja DOC (denominación de origen calificada or “qualified designation of origin”). Tempranillo Blanco is a white wine grape that is medium-sized and yellow-green in color. While this varietal still ripens early like its red counterpart, it is much more aromatic with citrus, floral, and tropical fruit flavors.
Tempranillo Blanco grape varieties are exclusively grown in Rioja today.
This type of Tempranillo is truly exceptional and rare, which brings us to our next topic of Spain’s most sought-after wine classification!
Spain is home to only two DOC regions, meaning that these regions are under the highest wine classification. This includes the Rioja region and the Priorat region. The DOC classification ensures the quality and authenticity of the produced agricultural goods, including wine. However, there is an even more coveted title regulated by Spanish law: the Gran Reserva title.
For a red wine to qualify for Gran Reserva, it must be aged for five years, one and a half of those in an oak barrel or cask.
With Tempranillo as the foundation for the vast majority of Rioja wine, there are several Tempranillo selections under Gran Reserva to be enjoyed. Keep an eye out for Viura, Grenache, Graciano, and Mazuelo, as well as these are the other varietals that qualify for the title that are commonly blended with Tempranillo.
We now know that Tempranillo mainly grows in Spain and Portugal, but let’s take a look at a few other places where you can find this exquisite varietal!
Where Else is Tempranillo Grown?
With almost 90% of the world’s Tempranillo production in Spain, the Ribera del Duero and Rioja regions are the best places to find Tempranillo wines. However, due to its ability to behave well in hot and cool climates, smaller Tempranillo vines are thriving in California, Oregon, Texas, Argentina, Chile, and Australia, although outside of Spain and Portugal, they may be tough to find.
Let’s now look at some of the best food pairings for this distinguished Spanish wine.
Best Tempranillo Food Pairings
Tempranillo is an excellent pairing for food due to its mellow acidity, tannins, and well-tempered flavors, whether sipped as a blend or on its own. Since Tempranillo is a famous wine for aging, it’s essential to know which foods taste best with both younger and aged Tempranillo.
Young Tempranillo Food Pairings
With fresh red fruit and savory pepper flavors, a bottle of young Tempranillo perfectly matches pasta doused in light red sauce. The red fruit and cedar notes effortlessly complement homemade tomato sauce's sweet and savory flavors.
Try a glass of Tempranillo with vegetarian lasagna or eggplant parmesan to bring out those earthier qualities.
Aged Tempranillo Food Pairings
As mentioned earlier, Tempranillo is a wine with prime aging potential as it can age for over ten, even up to twenty years. Over time, those dried fig and nutty flavors are pulled to the forefront, resulting in a more dense and savory wine.
Aged Tempranillo is best served alongside rich meats like steak and lamb.
A Wine That Can’t Help But Standout
If you’re craving Tempranillo by now, check out our selection of Tempranillo Rioja D.O.C. and other Spanish wines!
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