Iconic Variety Providing the Class to Spain’s Best Reds
Tempranillo is a red wine grape that is Spain’s answer to the iconic Cabernet Sauvignon. It adds spine to some of the best red blends coming out of Spain.
Temprano means ‘early’ in Spanish, and Tempranillo ripens up to 2 weeks before Garnacha. It buds along with other varieties, so has a naturally shorter growing cycle.
Tempranillo loves warm, sunny days and cool nights, ensuring ripe grapes with decent levels of acidity.
Most modern Tempranillo is trained with wire and in neat columns for mechanical harvesting. They must focus on not to overproduce, as quality drops quickly as yields rise. It’s no surprise then that the old bush vines of Spain, spaced out across harsher terrain, produce some of the finest Tempranillo available.
Varietal Tempranillo has a rather restrained flavour profile, with primary fruits ranging from strawberries and cherries to blackcurrants and plums. It usually benefits from cellar work to get more expressive, with oak and bottle age adding flavours of vanilla and coconut spice, chocolate, leather, and tobacco.
Most varietal Tempranillo are lively, fruit-driven dry red wines. Tempranillo is often the backbone of high-quality red blends with the likes of Garnacha, Bobal, Monastrell, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Tempranillo has a natural affinity to oak, and higher end examples usually have either a sweet vanilla and coconut flavours from American oak, or a warmer gentle spice from European oak.
Also Known As
- Tempranillo (International)
- Tinto Madrid (Regional Spain)
- Tinto de la Rioja (Regional Spain)
- Tinta del Pais (Regional Spain)
- Tinto Aragones (Regional Spain)
- Tinta de Toro (Regional Spain)
- Tinto Roriz (Douro Valley)
- Aragonez (Alentejo)
- Ull de Llebre (Penedes)
- Cencibel (Valdepeñas)
- Tinto Fino (Ribera del Duero)
- Tempranilla (Argentina)
- Valdepeñas (USA)
Tempranillo is a thick-skinned grape variety, with deep colour and moderate to high tannins. In warmer temperatures it also produces wines of notably high alcohol. These properties make the best Tempranillos very suitable pours for ageing.
Tempranillo has naturally low acidity, and so can also achieve well-balanced wines in cooler climates.
The fruitiness and tannic structure of Tempranillo lends itself to roast meats with rich sauces, being probably the best choice, apart from Pinot Noir or Sangiovese, to pair with lamb. Do try better quality versions with herb encrusted lamb burgers.
Tempranillo is the most planted red variety in Spain, replacing previous favourites Garnacha, Bobal, and Monastrell.
Given its shorter growing cycle, it’s the harsher areas of Rioja in which Tempranillo really thrives. The Atlantic-influenced areas of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa are nearly 70% of Spain’s plantings. It is often blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano. It is also often finished in American Oak adding flavours of coconut spice.
Tempranillo blends with high-end Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to produce the iconic wines of Vega Sicilia, often using French oak this time, to add a pepper spiciness to the final flavour.
Known as Ull de Llebre in Penedes, it is mostly blended with Monastrell.
Tempranillo is one of Spain’s iconic reds, grown extensively across nearly all of Spain red wine regions, with notable shout outs to Navarra and Castilla La Mancha.
Tempranillo adapted well to a move to Portugal in the early 19th century, with nearly 15,000 hectares of Tinta Roriz planted. Gaining ground following the late 19th century post-phylloxera replanting, it is now the second most planted variety in the Douro Valley, producing varietal and blended table wines, and a blending component in many ports.
Elsewhere in Portugal, it is planted in Alentejo, often blended with Trincadeira.
Argentinian ‘Tempranilla’ is mostly planted in Mendoza. It had the reputation of light, over irrigated red wine that last market share to the Malbec juggernaut of the 1990s and 2000s.
There are small plantings in France, in the Aude department in Languedoc-Roussillon, nearly all of which they use for blending.
The low acid variety, Valdepeñas, is most likely Tempranillo, and is grown in a few hundred hectares across Central Valley California, the Sierra Foothills and Oregon.
Plantings are on the rise in Australia as wine makers look for the next cool climate, terroir-driven reds.
If you love Tempranillo you should also explore….
With comparable structure but with a more showy aromatic profile, it will be an interesting comparison, especially if you can get hold of examples from the same region.
The Spanish term used for Grenache. This red variety is everything Tempranillo is not, allowed for another compare and contrast between two blending buddies. Garnacha is light in colour and tannin, but full in fruit flavour and alcohol.