Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Tempranillo

The Soundbyte:  Tempranillo is a primary red grape for much of Northern and Central Spain, including the famous wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero.  It is also a key blending varietal in Port and known by the name Tinta Roriz in Portugal’s Douro River Valley.  The name “Tempranillo” is derived from the Spanish word “temprano”, meaning early, and refers to the fact that the grape buds, flowers, and ripens a full two weeks before Spain’s other leading red grape and frequent blending partner of Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache).

There is a fantastic old legend that Tempranillo ended up in Northern Spain via the Camino de Santiago.  Cistercian Monks, so the legend goes, making the religious pilgrimage from Burgundy to Santiago de Compostela, left Pinot Noir cuttings behind at the Monasteries around Haro, Burgros, and Logroño.  From these vines, the Pinot Noir grape morphed itself into its new surroundings and ended up as the Tempranillo we know now and love.  Alas, this tale must remain with us as “just a good story” seeing as recent ampelographic studies have shown no genetic connection between the two cultivars.  Tempranillo, is however, thought to be a native son of Northern Spain.

Typical Attributes of a Tempranillo Based Wine:

  • Medium to Deep, ruby-red  color in appearance (while young). Tempranillo-based wines can sometimes show a deep hue but lighter color intensity such as is often seen in Sangiovese or Pinot Noir.
  • These are long-lasting wines, and can often improve with significant aging and maturation.  This is in part due to      the fact that Tempranillo has a low amount of oxidizing enzyme, making it particularly resistant to oxidation.
  • These wines, made from heat-loving, thick-skinned black grapes, tend to be medium to high in alcohol.
  • Tempranillo’s low to medium levels of natural acidity mean that it is often part of a blend, although in many prestigious wines Tempranillo can be up to 90% of the blend.  It is less often than most made into a 100% varietal wine.
  • Medium to High levels of tannin, often described as “firm yet round.”
  • Intense fruit flavors mingled with spice and earth tones, often improved by oak contact.
  • Tempranillo can be made into a fun, fruity, easy drinking wine via Carbonic Maceration.
  • Tempranillo makes some wonderful, dry rosés.

Typical Aromas of a Tempranillo Based Wine:

Fruity: Strawberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Black Currant, Red Stone Fruit, Cherry, Plum, Raisin, Prune

Spicy: Vanilla, Dried Herbs, Clove, Cinnamon

Herbal: Green Herb, Mint, Eucalyptus

Earthy: Wet Earth, Leather, Mineral, Tobacco, Graphite

Oak-Derived:  Cedar, Vanilla, Oak, Soft Spice

Where The Best Tempranillo is Grown:

  • Spain, where it is one of the leading grapes and grown throughout the country.  The grape is the star of the wine      regions of the North of Spain, including Rioja, Nararra, and Penedès.  Here and elsewhere, it is frequently blended      with Grenache, Cariñena (called Mazuelo in Rioja), and Graziano.
  • Spain’s (arguably) most famous wine and winery, Vega Sicilia, makes a  Tempranillo-based blend and is leading the way for a resurgence of the vines and wines of the Ribera del Duero region of Spain.
  • Tempranillo is also the leading grape variety of the Spanish regions of Valdepeñas and La Mancha, where it sometimes goes by the name of Cencibel, Ojo de Libre, Tinto Fino, Tinto del Pais, Tinto del Toro or Ull de Liebre.
  • Portugal’s Douro Valley, where it is both a varietal wine and key blending partner in the fortified wines of Port.  Tempranillo is also used as a varietal wine in the Portuguese region of the Alentejo. In Portugal it is usually referred to as “Tinta Roriz” or “Tinta Aragonez”.
  • California, Washington State, and Oregon. The TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates and Producers) people do a lot to      promote Tempranillo in the New World – check them out!
  • Texas – Alamosa Wine Cellars in Bend, Texas makes a 100% Estate-grown Tempranillo Blend called “El Guapo” – it      was the first Texas wine I fell in love with! Read more about that story here: http://bubblyprofessor.com/2011/08/26/texas-tempranillo/
  • It is possible that the grape known as “Valdepeñas,” grown in California’s Central Valley for use in jug wine, is actually Tempranillo.
  • Australia, particularly McLaren Vale.  Australian producer D’Arenberg has a Tempranillo/Grenache/Souzao blend called “Sticks and Stones”.
  • Chile, Argentina (where it is called “Tempranilla”), and Mexico all have some plantings.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Pork, Grilled Foods

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Spanish Ham, Smoked Paprika, Tapas
  • Paella, especially when made with lots of Chicken and Sausage (a richer verision, as opposed to those heavy on the seafood.)
  • Garlic, Onions, Roasted Garlic
  • Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes, Dried Tomatoes
  • Currants, Prunes, Almonds (go easy on the sweetness)
  • Mushrooms, Bell Peppers, Roasted Bell Peppers, Stuffed Peppers, Green Olives
  • Black Pepper, Chili Spices, Barbeque Flavors, Hearty, highly seasoned foods

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas  - missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...Full time for 16 years!

5 Responses to Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Tempranillo

  1. Pingback: Perfect Pairings: Paella and Rioja « The Bubbly Professor

  2. Pingback: Be Tempted by Tempranillo on International Tempranillo Day 11/8 | wine predator

  3. Your post was so great I had to link to it in my tempranillo post!

  4. Pingback: Perfect Pairings: Amazeballs and Tempranillo « The Bubbly Professor

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