What is Tempranillo?
Tempranillo is pronounced Tem-prah-nee-oh. Tempranillo is a black Spanish grape primarily used in the production of red wines from Rioja, which is Spain’s best-known region.
Grown throughout Spain, Tempranillo translates as ‘little early one’, a name given by Spanish grape growers because it ripens early.
It is thought the grape was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) by the Phoenicians more than 3,000 years ago. It is the fourth most planted varietal in the world and is one of the nine noble red grapes.
In Portugal, where it is called Tinta Roris, it is blended into Port wine. Tempranillo is also known by many different names in other regions, including Cencibel, Tinto Fino and Tinta del País. In autumn, Tempranillo leaves turn bright red, making for a stunning sight in the vineyard.
Tempranillo is typically deep red or purple. Tempranillo wines tend to be full-bodied with plenty of tannin and acidity. When young, it can be surprisingly fresh and fruity, displaying plums and cherries. Cool climate examples show strawberry and blackcurrant. Warmer regions show prune and chocolate. Tempranillo responds well to oak, bringing flavours of vanilla, spice, dill and cedar. With age and oak, the fruit becomes more subdued, and you’ll find notes of leather and tobacco leaf.
Pairing with food
With robust savoury characteristics, Tempranillo matches readily with a variety of food, especially mildly spicy dishes. Not surprisingly, being from Spain, it is famous for pairing with red meat and ham, as well as dishes spiced with smoked paprika.
Try a platter of spicy salamis and chorizo. Meaty tomato-based dishes such as ragout and lasagne are a winner, as are char-grilled meats fresh off the barbecue. Roast vegetables, hearty pasta dishes, Cajun Jambalaya and Mexican also win out.
Tempranillo’s most famous cheese match is with Manchego, a sheep’s milk cheese from La Mancha, granted Protected Geographical Status under European Law.
Notable regions for Tempranillo wines
New Zealand - Tempranillo is not well-known in New Zealand, and plantings are small. There are limited plantings in Marlborough, where it has proven to be relatively easy to grow. A few excellent examples are also coming out of Hawke’s Bay, displaying plum, cherry and savoury notes.
Australia - Tempranillo is enjoying something of a surge in popularity in Australia. More and more vineyards are planting the grape and winemakers are seeing success in the wines they produce. Australia is still very much in the experimental stage. Warm climates increase sugar levels and thicken the grapes skins to give deeper colours, while cooler-climate Tempranillo wines are lighter in colour and more elegant on the palate. South Australia’s Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions produce excellent Tempranillo. Wineries in the New South Wales regions of Mudgee, Orange and the Southern Highlands are also enjoying success creating bright, flavoursome Tempranillo. In Australia, Tempranillo is also blended with Shiraz and Grenache.
Rioja, Spain - Rioja is by far the best-known wine region and wine name from Spain. Wines from Rioja can be red, white or rosé. The red wines, or tinto in Spanish, are blends made primarily from Tempranillo. Red Rioja wines generally spend some time in oak barrels. The youngest wines are designated Joven, with the highest classification being designated Rioja Gran Reserva. Most of these are aged for ten years or more.
International: Portugal, North America (California, Oregon, Washington State, Texas), Peru, Argentina, Chile, South Africa.