Tempranillo, Bold and Full Bodied!

Tempranillo, Bold and Full Bodied!

Tempranillo, Bold and Full Bodied!

Tempranillo has more aliases than any criminal in history, being known by a long, varied list of monikers around the world. (I stopped counting at 62 total aliases, but I am sure there are more.) Spain boasts the highest number of Tempranillo aliases anywhere, with Portugal coming in second. Tempranillo is inextricably associated with Spain, where it accounts for 88% of all red grape varieties grown and is the fourth most planted red variety in the world. Integral to the great wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Tempranillo has grown in popularity worldwide, adapting nicely to local terroir and creating wines that are true to the region in which they grow. Unfortunately, confusion caused by the grape's many names may have prevented it from receiving its due recognition. Furthermore, Tempranillo being used primarily in blends, with its name rarely on the label, has likely also contributed to its limited recognition. Although Tempranillo is rarely used to create a single varietal wine, it is usually the primary player in a blend, contributing flavors of red fruit, spice, and leather. The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish word "temprano," meaning "little early one," probably referring to the early ripening of this grape. Because it ripens early and has a short growing season, it can thrive in a variety of climates. In cooler areas, it can succeed if there is enough sun to ripen the fruit entirely, producing a bright, easy-drinking wine with more red fruit characteristics. The Tempranillo grape thrives in areas with large diurnal temperature swings, where warm, sunny days ripen the fruit, and cool nights help maintain its acidity. The wines produced in these climates take on darker fruit aromas, such as those of blackberry and plum, and have very muscular tannins.
Morning Time Picturesque Landscapes of Vineyards and Rolling Hills of the La Rioja Region of Spain on the Way of St James Pilgrimage Trail Camino de Santiago. Generative AI
Morning Time Picturesque Landscapes of Vineyards and Rolling Hills of the La Rioja Region of Spain on the Way of St James Pilgrimage Trail Camino de Santiago. Generative AI

A Wine by any other name…

A few Tempranillo Aliases

Abillo Negro, Aldepenas, Aragon, Aragonez, Arinto Tinto, Cencibel, Chinchillana, Cupani, De Por Aca, Escobera, Garnacho Fono, Grenache de Logrono, Jacibiera, Juan Garcia, Negra de Mesa, Ojo de Liebre, Pinuela, Sensibel, Tinta Aragones, Tinta Corrient, Tinta de Madrid, Tinta de Santiago, Tinta de Toro, Tinta do Inacio, Tinta do Pais, Tinta Fina, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Aragon, Tinto Fino, Ull de Llebre, Valdepenas, Verdiell, Vid de Aranda

The Tempranillo grape is black, with dark-colored skins, medium acidity, and moderate to high tannins. When young, Tempranillo produces fresh juicy wines with flavors of strawberry and cherry. As the wine ages, it creates wines with aromas and flavors of dark fruits, such as blackberry and fig, and develops interesting flavors of tobacco, leather, cedar, and vanilla flavors from its time aging in oak barrels.

It is certainly worth exploring the many areas where this delightful grape is grown to discover how climate, soil, blending, and wine-making techniques can transform this grape into a myriad of captivating aromas and flavors. Tempranillo is King in Spain and is grown in almost every wine region in northern and western Spain. The most famous wine region for Tempranillo is Rioja, where it is blended with Garnacha, Mazuela, Graciano, and sometimes Cabernet Sauvignon, and the wines exhibit smokey, savory characteristics. Within Spain’s Castilla y Leon wine region, both Ribera del Duero and Toro produce exciting Tempranillos. Though still often blends, both areas now produce world-class single-varietal Tempranillo wines. The frigid winters and short hot summers in Ribera del Duero produce elegant wines with a deep dark hue and robust but integrated tannins. In Toro, along the Duero River, to the west of Ribera del Duero, Tempranillo is planted at high altitude to combat the region's harsh heat and results in a rustic, intense, and concentrated wine. Down south in the regions of La Mancha and Valdepenes, where the grape is known as Cencibel, it produces both single varietal and blends with Spanish and international grape varieties.

Like all red wines in Spain, those made from Tempranillo must meet the minimum aging requirements defined by Spanish law. While these laws should help you choose which wines to buy, please note that many producers exceed these requirements. Also noteworthy is that Gran Riserva wines are only produced in exceptional years.

Ripe and dry bunches of red tempranillo grapes after harvest, vineyards of La Rioja wine region in Spain, Rioja Alavesa in winter. Generative AI
Ripe and dry bunches of red tempranillo grapes after harvest, vineyards of La Rioja wine region in Spain, Rioja Alavesa in winter. Generative AI


  • Joven - Young, fresh wines, with no aging requirement
  • Crianza - 24 months total aging, with 6 months in barrel
  • Riserva - 36 months total aging, with 12 months in barrel
  • Gran Riserva - 60 months total aging, with 18 months in barrel

In Portugal, just west of Spain, Tempranillo is known by two different names, depending on the part of the country in which it’s produced. Tempranillo is called Tinto Roriz in the Douro and Dao regions, and is called Aragonez in Alentejo, in the south. In the Douro region, Tempranillo, under the alias of Tinto Roriz, is one of the five primary grapes used in the blend for most Port production. However, it is now also used to produce many delightful red still wines. The grapes are planted at altitude along the Douro River, protecting the wine's vital acidity, and the hot temperature of the region helps create the fruit’s structure. By contrast, the cold, wet winters of the Dao region, combined with significant diurnal temperature swings, produce Tinto Roriz wines that display delicate red fruit aromas, soft tannins, and high acidity.

Tempranillo came to the United States in the late 19th Century and was called Valdepenas. It was first planted in California's Central Coast region, but in the early 1990s, interest in the variety grew as areas better suited to Tempranillo's ripening needs in California, Oregon, and Washington State. By 1998, southern Oregon's Abecela Winery won first place in the San Francisco International Wine Competition, with a single varietal Tempranillo. From that point on, the popularity of domestic Tempranillo has continued to grow amongst winemakers and consumers alike.

Similarly, in Australia, Tempranillo is enjoying an ever-increasing popularity, where the grape is almost always aged in American Oak. Some of the best examples are found in Barossa Valley, King Valley, McLaren Vale, and Margaret River. Elsewhere in the world, the appreciation of Tempranillo is expanding, and its planting has begun in Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.

Tempranillo is a delightful wine for pairing with a multitude of dishes. Its savory characteristics, moderate acidity, and softer tannins make it a great pairing with mushroom or tomato-based dishes. Of course, it also pairs well with many classic Spanish foods, such as paella and Jamon de Iberico. Bolder, more developed Tempranillo can handle stronger, meatier dishes, such as rack of lamb, porterhouse steak, and other grilled meats. James Beard Award-Winning Chef/Owner of Denver's Rioja restaurant, Jennifer Jasinski, certainly knows her way around Rioja's famed red grape. She likes pairing Tempranillo with the restaurant's Potato and Cheese Pansoti, Roasted Acorn Squash, and Pancetta vinaigrette. Jen says, "The earthiness of the squash works great with medium-bodied reds. Pancetta vinaigrette and red wine gastrique both play well with the wonderful Spanish Tempranillos." [Recipe and photo attached]

You may have enjoyed a glass of Tempranillo without even knowing you are drinking it. But if you have ever had a Spanish or Portuguese red wine, the odds are good that it contained Tempranillo. With its robust and complex savory flavors, versatility, and age-ability, it is no wonder this grape continues to grow in popularity worldwide. Buy some for your collection or bring it to your next dinner party. Tempranillo is sure to capture attention and make any occasion better, no matter its moniker or alias.

One Comment
  1. Great content Elizabeth. I look forward to reading your future articles in Wine Country International Magazine.

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