What’s in a Grape? Tempranillo

Tempranillo (pronounced temp-rah-nee-oh) is a red wine grape most commonly grown in Spain. You’ve probably heard of Rioja, where some of the best examples of Tempranillo have made the Spanish wine region famous. This is one of our favourite grape varieties  (who are we kidding? So is every other variety!), and we are never one to miss an opportunity to share some information about our favourite things!

Here’s what you’ll find in this article:

What is Tempranillo?
Where is Tempranillo Grown?
What does Tempranillo Taste Like?
What to Pair with Tempranillo?
How is Rioja Tempranillo Classified?
How to Choose a Good Tempranillo

Tempranillo on the vine

What is Tempranillo?

Tempranillo is the primary grape used in the popular red wines (also referred to as “tinto”) of the Rioja region of Spain. Rioja wines tend to be blends that contain Tempranillo and various other grapes (Mazuelo, Garnacha and Graciano), which is why you may not be as familiar with the name Tempranillo. The more commonly recognized grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz are included in blends too, but are often distributed as stand-alone varieties in wines, unlike Tempranillo.

Did you know?

Another reason you might be less familiar with Tempranillo (despite it being the main grape used in the extremely popular Rioja wine) is due to the labelling conventions typically used in the Old World. Wines in the old world aren’t labelled using the grape varieties within, but by the region. This explains why you’ve probably heard about Rioja, and not Tempranillo!

Tempranillo in Rioja

Where is Tempranillo Grown?

Tempranillo is grown in Spain’s Rioja region, of course! But that’s not the only place. Tempranillo actually covers over 230,670 hectares of land worldwide (that’s just a couple hundred square kilometres smaller than the total area in the country of Luxembourg), with 20 percent of that being outside of Spain.

Did you know? 

It was recently announced that Tempranillo is the most widely planted grape variety in Spain, with 202,917 hectares under vine. That’s 21 percent of Spain’s vineyard area!

Why is Tempranillo so Broadly Grown in Spain?

The Tempranillo grape is a versatile one, with characteristics that allow it to grow in a variety of different sub-climates and terroirs. It flourishes in the higher elevations of the Rioja regions, along the sandy Duero River valley, and even in lovely fertile soils like those in Navarra. This versatility is partly due to the grape’s early ripening schedule – it ripens earlier than the other Spanish red grape varieties.

Did you know?

Tempranillo is a diminutive for “temprano,” which translates as “early.”

vineyards in Navarra

Growing Tempranillo in Northern Spain

  • La Rioja Alta, Alavesa and Baja
    Probably the most well-known of the Spanish regions, here Tempranillo is grown at high elevations and aged in oak barrels. With a variety of styles and classifications, there is a wine for every palate.
  • Navarra
    Rioja’s neighbour to the North, characterized by cooler weather and fertile soils, brings out the red fruit flavours of Tempranillo. 

Did you know?
Romans brought vines to Navarra thousands of years ago!

  • Toro and Zamora
    Tempranillo’s versatility allows these grapes to grow in rocky, mineral-deficient soils in these regions. Wine made from grapes grown here is incredibly rich with a characteristic spiciness. If you are looking for a Tempranillo from Toro, it will be called Tinta de Toro, rather than Tempranillo.
  • Ribera del Duero
    The soil along the Duero River is mostly sand and clay, and vines grown here experience broad diurnal shifts (temperature fluctuations from day to night). Here, Tempranillo is called ‘Tinto Fino’ and is known for its bright acidity brought on by the cooler nights.

Growing Tempranillo in Central Spain

  • La Mancha
    Spreading from Madrid and throughout the centre of Spain, this region is hot hot hot. Tempranillo doesn’t develop too high of an alcohol count, which is sometimes the case with wines in hot weather, allowing for deep fruit flavours and another delicious rendition of this versatile grape. 

Growing Tempranillo in Portugal

Tempranillo is also the most-planted grape in Portugal. It’s one of the main grapes used in the production of Port wine (blended with Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca).

In the Dão and Douro regions of Portugal, Tempranillo is called Tinta Roriz. Here, the grape showcases a lot of berry fruit and spicy flavours, and is often blended with native grapes.

In the southern Portuguese region Alentejo, Tempranillo is better known as Aragonês.

Growing Tempranillo in the New World

Tempranillo is increasingly planted in New World countries as well. It has shown great results on the Californian west coast, Northern Mexico and even in places like Texas. It has also shown up in regions where you wouldn’t expect the grape at all. WineCollective features a rare Tempranillo from B.C., as part of Inniskillin’s Discovery Series!

What Does Tempranillo Taste Like?

Tempranillo is often part of a red wine blend, but the grape itself is known for its complex flavour profile. Tempranillo wines exhibit notes ranging from red fruit, like cherry and plum, to savoury and earthy, like leather and tobacco, to those associated with oak aging, like vanilla, caramel and dill pickles. If you enjoy Sangiovese or Cabernet Sauvignon, you’ll love yourself some Tempranillo!

A glass of Tempranillo with finger food

What to Pair with Tempranillo?

Wines made from Tempranillo are food-friendly due to their complex and savoury flavour profile. The wine pairs well with Spanish dishes, especially those with tomato-based sauces. But you don’t have to stick with just Spanish foods – Tempranillo really will go with many foods. Try with late-night favourites like pizza or tacos or something more sophisticated like charcuterie. 

How is Rioja Tempranillo Classified?

We get it, you’re intrigued by the Tempranillo that comes out of Rioja. We are too! The Rioja DO (Denominación de Origen) has a unique classification system that is based on aging time rather than vineyard location. These are the three classifications that you will see on Rioja wine labels, and what they mean:

  • Rioja Crianza wines have spent at least two years aging, six months of which must be spent in a barrel (the rest can be spent in a bottle), before they enter the market.
  • Rioja Reserva classified wines have spent at least one year in a barrel, and at least 3 years aging in total, before they can be released for sale.
  • Rioja Gran Reserva wines are aged for even longer before they are put out on the shelves! They require at least 18 months of aging in a barrel, with a total minimum aging time of five years. Rioja Gran Reserva wines are some of the most age-worthy wines, and can continue to age for decades to come. 

If you come across a Rioja wine labelled ‘Vino Joven’, that means that it hasn’t been aged in oak at all. These wines are much younger, brighter and acidic and are meant to be enjoyed immediately, without cellaring.

How to Choose a Good Tempranillo

Walking up and down the aisles at your local liquor store can be overwhelming. Let us help! Sign up for a monthly subscription box from WineCollective and you’ll receive a curated selection of amazing wines from around the world. We often feature Tempranillo from Rioja, and from other regions too! Members even get 15-50% off the retail price of bottles in the store

Want to try a Crianza (the class of Rioja that is aged for at least six months in oak, and two years total)? Try this Armentia y Madrazo Crianza for only $18.49. 

Want to try something a little ‘fancier’ – maybe one that has been aged since 2012? We’d recommend this Armentia y Madrazo Gran Reserva, which members can order for $31.49 (psst that’s a sweet deal – retail price is $37.99).

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