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 grape used in Port—where it often goes by the name Tinta Roriz.  It is often said that 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— Garnacha (Grenache).

There is a fantastic old legend that says that Tempranillo ended up in Northern Spain via the Camino de Santiago.  According to the legend, Cistercian Monks 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 have shown no such genetic connection between the two cultivars.  Tempranillo is, these days, believed 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.
  • 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 many of the 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 used to produce varietal wines and is also a 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 made 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: https://bubblyprofessor.com/2011/08/26/texas-tempranillo/
  • Australia, particularly McLaren Vale.  Australian producer D’Arenberg has a Tempranillo/Grenache/Souzao blend called “Sticks and Stones”.
  • Chile, Argentina, 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...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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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