Tempranillo, a red variety native to Northern Spain, comes from the spanish word ‘temprano’ which means ‘early’ – named after it’s tendency to ripen early. Depending on weather conditions, it can be harvested several weeks before other red grapes.
Is it fair to say that this variety represents the essence of Spanish red wine. It is difficult to find a variety that has so much
influence and dominance in the same country. Tempranillo is commonly seen as the red variety for quality wines in Spain.
The grape varieties that gave rise to Tempranillo are Albillo Mayor and Benedicto. The first a white variety grown in the center of the Iberian Peninsula, and the second a red grape that is now practically extinct.
Within Spain itself, it is not always called Tempranillo. In Ribera del Duero, for example, it is known as Tinta Fina. In the center of Spain, they call is Cencibel. In Toro, Tinta de Toro. This grape has many other names, and clones, among them: Tinta Madrid, Tinta de La Rioja, Tinta del País and many others.
Outside Spain, this grape has even more names.
In Douro and Dão in Portugal, for example, it is known as Tinta Roriz, in Alentejo, it is called Aragonês.
Fun Fact: Tempranillo is one of the five main grapes used to produce the great port wines, among their native varieties like Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca.
Outside of the Iberian Peninsula, it grows happily in other warm climates such as South America, especially Argentina and Chile, Central California, even Australia and Oregon!
Colder climates can give elegance to the Tempranillo grape. But to achieve high levels of sugar, thicker skins, and have an optimum maturation point to provide depth to the color, it needs heat. That’s why, in general, the best wines of this variety are from grapes grown in high insolation areas with with cool nights. These conditions are most commonly found in continental climates.
Ribera del Duero and Rioja, in Spain are perfect examples with very hot days and cooler nights.
To give you an idea, the average temperature in July (summer in Europe) is around 21° C, but in the middle of the day it reaches 40°C and, at night, drops to around 15°C! This enormous thermal variation (also referred to as the “diurnal shift”) makes these regions perfect for growing Tempranillo, allowing them to ripen during the day and rest during the night to retain the acidity needed to balance the final wine.
In general, we can say that wine produced with Tempranillo grapes have medium tannins, medium to high acidity with darker red colors and often a purple ruby tint. These wines are typically considered to be a medium to high-bodied wine.
The Tempranillo grape shows great versatility when aging too. We can have high-quality wines when it comes to young wines and when we talk about more mature aged wines, both from aging in oak barrels and in bottles.
Young wines, those that do not spend much time in oak barrels, will have a more pronounced fruity flavor, with red fruit aromas. More complex wines, such as those with some time in oak, will develop sweet spices, such as vanilla and even leather aromas.
Rioja is the most famous region known for Tempranillo, as discussed above. Typically these wines highlight more red fruit notes and are commonly aged in American oak barrels that impart flavors of coconut, dill, and vanilla.
Ribera del Duero is another famed region for this variety, producing wines that often highlight more black fruit notes and are more commonly aged in French oak barrels, imparting more subtle flavors of cedar, allspice, and cinnamon. In Ribera del Duero, they take the Tempranillo very seriously! The wines from this region MUST BE produced with at least 85% of Tempranillo!
FAMOUS WINES OF TEMPRANILLO
Two of the most famous Tempranillo wines from Spain come from Vega Sicilia wines, their “Unico” in the D.O. Ribera del Duero and Pintia from the D.O. Toro.
- A young Tempranillo with little to no barrel aging can pair very well with pepperoni pizza, grilled or roasted meat like burgers or pig roast, mushroom dishes, cured cheeses.
- The more mature, oak aged styles pair well with cold cuts, cured sausages, roast lamb with spices, and even cremier cheeses like Brie and Camembert.