Guide to Tempranillo

Guide to Tempranillo

Although a varietal most closely associated with Spain––where more than 80% of the world’s Tempranillo is produced––Tempranillo has garnered acclaim in many other regions around the world. Learn about this delicious varietal and see why it should be the next bottle you open for dinner.

The origins of Tempranillo

The name “Tempranillo” is a diminutive of temprano (which means “early” in Spanish). The grape received this name as a reference to how the grape ripens quicker than other red varietals in Spain.

Tempranillo has been planted in Spain since the Phoenecians. It produces the majority of wine in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Since the 1990s, it has become a popular grape in other regions, such as Navarra and Penedes.

Tempranillo in the New World

Tempranillo made its way to California via a man named Frederic Bioletti in 1905. It did not receive immediate acclaim––due in part to Prohibition and in part to its inability to flourish in hot, dry climates. Decades later, winemakers realized that Tempranillo does well in cooler climates. Today, it thrives in the mountainous regions of California and in Oregon.

Tempranillo characteristics

Tempranillo has a surprisingly neutral flavor profile, so winemakers tend to age the wine longer and let oak impart most of the flavors into wines. For this reason, aging becomes an important part of a Tempranillo’s character. This is also why Tempranillo is often blended with other wines. In Spain, Tempranillo is mixed with Garnacha, Carignan, or other varietals such as Graciano and Merlot.

Tempranillo is medium-colored ruby red or garnet and has aromas and flavors of cherries and plums. When aged in oak, it often has notes of tobacco, leather, and vanilla. It is low in acidity and in sugar (particularly when grown in a cooler climate). It can seem an anomaly because in the glass, it does not have a deep red color . . . yet on the palate, the wine (especially when aged in oak for longer periods) can be bold. Tempranillo delivers a lot of flavor with the big, chewy texture of some bolder wines.

Tempranillo food pairings

Thanks to its relatively mild acidity and tannins, Tempranillo is an easy wine to pair with many types of foods. Try it with typical Spanish fare, such as a plate of jamon iberico and manchego, or pair with other cuisines, such as Mexican enchiladas, mild Moroccan lamb tagine, or even burgers. The cedar and tobacco work well with anything smoked, so Tempranillo is also a perfect accompaniment to your next barbecue.