Last Updated on April 3, 2023.
The Tempranillo grape variety has been around for at least 2,000 years. While there is no definitive proof of 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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Depending on where it’s produced, Tempranillo is often blended with other varieties along the lines of Merlot or Garnacha. These varieties add additional complexity since for some, Tempranillo appears more neutral on the palate compared to grapes like Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Also worth noting is how Tempranillo has been received in some surprising locations outside of Spain. Many new world regions, such as the 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 typically displays brighter fruit notes like black cherry, red currant, plum, cranberry, tomato, and subtle strawberry notes. It can show secondary tones of tobacco, mushroom, black pepper, leather, and herbal notes with limestone, silt, or clay minerality.
Tempranillo 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 varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Teinturier varieties. Skin density plays a big part during fermentation in determining the viscosity of the wine. Tempranillo is perfect for those who enjoy complex wines that aren’t overly heavy.
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.
For fish, this grape requires a sturdier style like salmon – pair it with salmon and four cheese risotto and you can’t go wrong.
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. Temperatures 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.
- Bodegas Vega Sicilia, ‘Unico Reserva Especial,’ Ribera del Duero, Spain
- Bodegas Muga, ‘Gran Reserva Prado Enea,’ Rioja, Spain
- Artadi, ‘La Pozo de Ballesteros,’ Rioja, Spain
- Lopes de Heredia, ‘Rioja Viña Tondonia Reserva,’ Rioja, Spain
- Parador, Napa Valley, California
- The Fableist, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
Learn About These Other Wine Grape Varieties
Written By Jamie Metzgar
Jamie Elizabeth Metzgar began her career in wine by pouring in a tasting room on the East End of Long Island, NY. After moving to New York City, she landed a position at Chambers Street Wines where she was encouraged to pursue wine education at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET). She earned Level III certification there and has since earned California Wine Appellation Specialist and Certified Specialist of Wine certifications as well. After way too many moves, she has recently landed in Northern California where she is compiling an unofficial roster of dog-friendly tasting rooms.
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Red & Blue
- (Black Cherry, Red Currant, Plum, Cranberry, Tomato, Subtle Strawberry)
Earth & Mineral Notes
Limestone, Silt, Clay
Tobacco, Mushroom, Black Pepper, Leather Saddle, Herbs
Structure & Body
Body Medium - Full
Acid Medium Plus
Alcohol Varied (13% - 15% ABV)
Finish Smooth, Spicy, Complex & Long