Tempranillo Wine Guide. Tempranillo grape information, tasting notes and food pairings.

A Tempranillo grape cluster growing in the Rioja region of Spain. Image Credit: Campo Viejo.

This Tempranillo wine guide is part of our grape variety series. A series of articles aimed at exposing awesome grape varieties, like Tempranillo. Learn the ins and outs of the Tempranillo grape, along with detailed tasting notes, food pairings and regional information. Plus some fun facts!

What is Tempranillo Wine?

Tempranillo is a grape varietal native to Spain that produces complex, full-bodied red wines with spicy and fruit forward tasting notes. It is the most noteworthy grape variety grown throughout Spain, however Tempranillo is most commonly associated with the Rioja wine region as well as Ribera del Duero.

Tempranillo Grape Information 

It took some time for me to figure out, but Tempranillo is my favorite variety of red wine. That’s because it packs a bold and structured flavor with a low viscosity (in other words, the liquid itself isn’t ‘thick’). Tempranillo grapes have slightly thinner skins when compared to other black grape varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon or Teinturier. Skin density plays a big part during fermentation in determining the viscosity of the wine. So if you like complex flavor, without the syrupy nature, Tempranillo might be for you!

Tempranillo Wine Guide, Tempranillo Tasting Notes, Food Pairings and Grape Information

On a recent visit to La Rioja Alta, Spain, I snapped this shot just before sunset of Tempranillo vines just beginning to bud.

Tempranillo is most successful in climates that transition from cool to hot during the growing season. It’s a hardy grape, and because of its moderately thick skin it can handle high altitudes and prolonged cold. Regions like Rioja and Ribera del Duero in Spain provide this sort of climate. Temperature during the day in these regions can average between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit, while at night the temperate can drop 30-40 degrees. This vine has adapted over centuries to handle the fluctuation and in turn deliver a bold flavored wine. The rocky terrain in these regions also adds some mineral notes to Tempranillo wines.

In accordance with many Spanish wine making traditions, Tempranillo is often aged in oak for extended periods of time. You’ll see many Spanish wines, whether 100% Tempranillo, or Tempranillo blends, carry the designation of Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva. These designations denote how long the wine was aged in general, but also how long specifically it was aged in an oak ‘cask’ or barrel. You can learn more about Spanish wine designations here.

 

Tempranillo Blends

Depending where it’s produced, Tempranillo is often blended with other varieties along the lines of Merlot or Garnacha. These varietals add additional complexity, since for some, Tempranillo appears more neutral on the palate compared to a Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon.

How Does the Tasting Profile of Tempranillo Break Down?

Common Flavors and Aromas

  • Fruit: Red & Blue (Black Cherry, Red Currant, Plum, Cranberry, Tomato, Subtle Strawberry)
  • Earth & Mineral Notes: Limestone, Silt, Clay
  • Additional Complexities: Tobacco, Mushroom, Black Pepper, Leather Saddle, Herbs

Structure

  • Body: Medium-Full
  • Sugar: Dry
  • Tannins: Medium
  • Acid: Medium-High
  • Alcohol: Varied (13%-15% ABV)
  • Finish: Smooth, Spicy & Complex, Long

Terroir

  • Soil: Clay, Silt, Limestone
  • Climate: Stark Variation (Warm – Cool at Night)
  • Notable Regions: Rioja, Spain | Ribera del Duero, Spain | Fredericksburg, TX | Toro, Spain
Tempranillo Wine Guide, Tasting Notes, Food Pairings & Tempranillo Grape Characteristics

Tempranillo grapevines now grow throughout Hill Country in Central Texas. Image Credit: Pedernales Cellars

Also worth noting is how Tempranillo has been received in some surprising locations outside of Spain. Many new world regions, such as Texas Hill Country in the United States, about an hour Northwest of Austin, have found this grape to thrive throughout their vineyards. The soil and stark climate changes are similar to that of North-central Spain, and Texas now considers Tempranillo to be its signature grape.

 Tempranillo Food Pairings  

Since Tempranillo wines tend to have unique spice notes attached to them, we like pairing them with meat. In particular, shoulder cuts of beef, filet mignon or braised pork ribs. While it does excessively well when paired alongside meat, lighter-bodied tempranillo also goes quite nicely with seasoned poultry. In particular – chicken, duck or quail. If you want to pair it with fish, I recommend avoiding white fish and sticking to heavier, oily fish, such as salmon. Want to maximize Tempranillo flavor alongside salmon? Pair salmon with Tempranillo and four cheese risotto and you can’t go wrong.

Tempranillo Grape Origins

The Tempranillo grape variety has been around for at least 2,000 years. While there is no definitive proof to its origins, the majority of vitis vinifera grape vine species, which includes Tempranillo, originate from ancient Phoenician cultures near modern day Lebanon. There is some archaeological evidence that shows Tempranillo began to grow in Spain somewhere between 500 and 900 B.C.

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