07.09.2017 |

Episode #8 of the course Wine basics: Top ten wine varietals by Saffron Hickey


Today, our top wine varietal is Tempranillo (tem-pra-nee-yoh). This red wine grape is native to Spain. The name Tempranillo originates from temprano, meaning “early,” since this varietal ripens earlier than most. This grape has been present for so long in so many regions, it has acquired many different names but is primarily labeled as Tempranillo internationally.


Major Regions

Spain’s most prestigious wine region is Rioja. Tempranillo accounts for 75% of Rioja’s vineyards, though it is often blended with small amounts of other reds like Garnacha/Grenache, Graciano, or Mazuelo/Carignan. These varietals make the wine spicy, fruity, or more acidic. Ribera del Duero is another reputable Spanish region known for red wines containing at least 75% Tempranillo, also known as tinto fino or tinto del pais in this area. Ribera del Duero Tempranillo is acidic and fruity when consumed early but is commonly aged in French oak.

Though not as popular, other countries grow this varietal with slight variations. In Portugal, Tempranillo is known as tinta roriz or aragonez, while Argentina calls it tempranilla. Australia blends the grape with Grenache or their own Shiraz for a heavier, bolder wine. The US and Italy also produce some Tempranillo.



Note: The scents and tastes people perceive in wine vary greatly depending on individual palates, production methods, climate, and more.

Sweetness: Tempranillo is a dry red wine with medium/high tannins and low/medium acidity.

Appearance: Deep crimson to ruddy orange.

Aromas and flavors: Black cherry, plum, strawberry, roasted tomato, leather, cedar, cloves, vanilla, tobacco, earth. Younger Tempranillo are fruity and juicy, while aging brings out tobacco, spice, and vanilla flavors.

Body: Medium- to full-bodied.

Aging: Spanish wines are divided into four categories based on aging requirements. For red wine, these are:

• Vino Joven: intended for early consumption, with little to no aging

• Crianza: aged at least two years, including one in oak

• Reserva: aged at least three years, including one in oak

• Gran Reserva: aged at least five years, including two in oak

American oak is traditional, but its tendency to overpower the fruit notes of the wine with vanilla has led winemakers to favor the lighter French oak or release unaged wine.


Food Pairing

Tempranillo pairs well with tapas such as stuffed olives, chorizo sausage, croquettes filled with ham or chicken, and calamari. The savory flavors of Tempranillo work well with casseroles, roasted vegetables, and smoky grilled meats. Another classic choice would be Manchego cheese with bread and cured meats.


Selection Guide

Spain has the most suitable climate for balanced Tempranillo. Try the traditional Spanish version before branching out to other countries. While 100% Tempranillo is enjoyable, a blend with other grapes is more traditional and will have enhanced flavor and complexity.

For fruitier notes, choose a Vino Joven. Aged Tempranillo wines are more savory, with spice and leather elements; the intensity of flavors depends on length of aging. For aged Tempranillo, Reserva is a good starting place. Seek a wine aged in French oak for optimal balance.

Like Italy, Spain has quality classifications. The highest quality levels are DOCa and DO, which indicate long-established winemakers in defined geographical areas. Ribera del Duero is a DO region and Rioja is a DOCa region. Even from these prestigious regions, Tempranillo is often inexpensive.

Tomorrow, learn about the bold Cabernet Sauvignon!


Recommended reading

Austin, Michael, 2017. Why Tempranillo Is Star Grape of Spain, No Matter What You Call It. Chicago, IL: Chicago Tribune.

Puckette, Madeline, 2012. A Guide to Tempranillo Wine. New York, NY: Wine Folly.

Robinson, Jancis, 2017. Tempranillo. Oxford: JancisRobinson.com.

Slinkard, Stacy, 2017. Tempranillo Spanish Wine. New York, NY: The Spruce.

Thexton, Jeanne, 2016. Tempranillo/Tinto Fino. London: Decanter.


Recommended book

Laloganes, John P., 2010. The Essentials of Wine with Food Pairing Techniques. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.


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