Guide to Tempranillo

Tempranillo wines are arguably Spain's most famous homegrown grape varietal, hailing prominently from the famous Rioja wine-producing region, where many of the best examples of tempranillo originate.

Renowned for being some of the best bottles of easy-drinking and food-friendly medium-bodied red wine available, in this guide to tempranillo, you can discover all of the knowledge you need to begin your tasting journey.

For a quick summary of how these wines taste and how they can be paired with food, consider our handy graphic below.

Tempranillo Quick Guide

Why is it Called Tempranillo?

The tempranillo grape gains its name from the Spanish word for early, “temprana”, which is a direct reference to the grapes ability to ripen far more quickly than other varietals.

The grape has a clear preference and strong ability to grow in very hot and dry climates, making it a perfect fit for the wine-producing regions of Spain and Portugal.

Whilst Spain accounts for around 80% of all tempranillo grown globally, it is also beginning to be cultivated in other major wine hubs, including Australia and the United States.

The grape has ancient roots dating all the way back to around 800 BC, resulting in its spread far and wide around the areas bordering the Mediterranean sea, where it pops up under varying names and slight genetic variations.

When looking to find where the best examples of tempranillo wines originate, however, it is always recommended to start with those coming from Spain, as the country exists as the spiritual home of the varietal.

How do Tempranillo Wines Taste?

Tempranillo Flavour Wheel

Tempranillo wines are famous examples of medium to full bodied dry style red wines that can possess a diverse range of flavours that often includes strong notes of cherry, raspberry, and blackberry, alongside spices, such as vanilla or clove, and even earthier hints of leather and tobacco.

Although they are technically considered a dry style wine, they can often taste somewhat sweet, at least in the finish, due to the strong fruit flavours felt when tasting and the influence of oak ageing that is a prominent feature of many of the bottles made in Rioja.

Other than that, tempranillo wines often contain moderate to sometimes high amounts of both tannin and acidity, making them taste medium to full bodied, depending on the winemakers preference and the particular climate from which it originates.

Tempranillo in Spain

With the Spanish wine-producing region of Rioja being the most important region in the cultivation of the tempranillo grape varietal globally, it makes sense that the best examples of tempranillo wine originate from there.

Other than in Rioja, however, it is also possible to find tempranillo being grown extensively in the neighbouring Navarro wine region, as well as in smaller regions, such as some areas in Catalonia, where it exists under a different name.

In any case, focusing on those bottles coming out of Rioja is the best way to really understand how well the Spanish can make wonderful examples of tempranillo-based wine.

Rioja Tempranillo

Located in northern-central Spain, the Rioja wine-producing region is nicely split into three separate subregions, being Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental, the latter being formerly known as Rioja Baja until recently.

Rioja Wine Region Map

The two subregions of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa sit higher up in the mountains, where the climate is decidedly cooler than lower down in the valley, resulting in the wines produced in these areas being famously more age-worthy and complex examples of Rioja wine.

This complexity and age-worthiness directly extends from the cooler climate that persists in these two areas because the grapes cultivated there are naturally higher in both acidity and tannins, whilst also being lower in sugar.

The Rioja Oriental subregion, located further down the mountains and into the flatlands heading towards the Ebro River, still produces exceptional examples of Rioja wine, though it is made towards a slightly different style and palate.

The wines from this area are known for their more fruit-forward and less tannic and acidic qualities, making them wonderful when drunk young and fresh.

The warmer climate of the region is what allows the grapes grown in this area to produce wines of naturally higher levels of sugar whilst retaining lower levels of acidity, making them typically sweeter, fruitier, and higher in alcohol.

Depending upon the style of tempranillo wine you’re looking for, the Rioja region in Spain offers you possibly the greatest amount of variety, allowing you to almost always find a tempranillo to suit your tastes and budget.

Rioja Tempranillo Classifications

In addition to the three distinct subregions mentioned above, the tempranillo wines from the Rioja region can also be broken down into four easy-to-understand classifications.

With each one denoting differing levels of ageing in both oak and bottle, learning about how Rioja tempranillo wines are graded is a perfect way to break down how each bottle you pick can be expected to taste.

See our handy graphic below to discover how they’re separated.

Tempranillo in Australia

Though it only entered the Australian winemaking landscape in the late 20th century, tempranillo has found much success in both the Australian climate and in the wallets of local consumers.

Whilst its popularity has definitely grown in recent times, it is still by no means one of the most significant grapes cultivated in the country.

That being said, the prominent wine-producing regions of the Adelaide Hills and Margaret River today make up perhaps its biggest champions.

Adelaide Hills Tempranillo

The Adelaide Hills wine-producing region in South Australia possesses a typically cooler climate, making it a perfect place to craft medium-bodied and acidic style Australian tempranillo wines.

When looking into the region, similarities can be drawn between the mountainous areas famous in the Rioja region in Spain and the hills and vineyards that dot the areas in the Adelaide Hills.

Adelaide Hills Wine Region Map

It is mostly the case that Australian examples of tempranillo wine will be medium-bodied, fruit-forward and typically not long aged in oak, unlike many of their Spanish counterparts.

This makes them often taste lighter, less tannic, and more fresh and acidic in their overall flavour profile than the more famous Rioja tempranillo wines.

This holds true for many examples of tempranillo produced in the Adelaide Hills region, though some well-aged examples can sometimes be found.

For more on the region, including the grape varietals most prominent to the area, visit this site.

Margaret River Tempranillo

The Margaret River region is by far the most preeminent wine-producing region in Western Australia, famous for producing excellent examples of cabernet sauvignon and semillon sauvignon blanc wines.

Whilst tempranillo grapes might only make up a very small part of the regions total plantings, winemakers in the Margaret River have begun to experiment with producing tempranillo wines that follow closely with those made in the Adelaide Hills wine region.

Margaret River Wine Region Map

The region, though located on the typically warmer west coast of Australia, is actually considered to be quite cool and moderate in comparison to other famous regions located elsewhere in the country, such as the much warmer Barossa Valley.

Because of this, the bottles of tempranillo produced there are often described as being medium-bodied, acidic, and more fruity in their overall flavour profile, due, in part, to their lack of thorough oak-ageing.

This site here offers you more about the history, growth, and taste of tempranillo wines produced in Australia, for those who wish to discover more.

Pairing Food with Tempranillo

Tempranillo wines are made to be had with food thanks to their medium to full bodied character and wonderfully upfront flavour profile.

When looking to pair a specific bottle with food, however, it always pays to look at where it is produced and what exact style of tempranillo it is that you’re holding, as some food choices work better.

Pairing Food with Tempranillo

Those examples that have been more thoroughly aged, think Gran Reserva or Reserva Rioja tempranillo, are often best enjoyed alongside hearty meat dishes with lots of flavour, such as spicy Spanish paella, or even many types of Mexican food, including burritos and nachos.

Somewhat more medium-bodied and younger styles of tempranillo, on the other hand, like many of those coming from Australia, are often best matched with grilled meats or vegetables, Spanish tapas boards, or any sort of meat-based pasta dish.

There's a bottle of tempranillo out there for everyone. Here are some of the brands and bottles that we recommend you look out for the next time you're browsing online or in-store.

Emilio Moro Tempranillo 2017 Tasting Notes
Somewhat dry in its taste, this Spanish red wine is moderately tannic & features complex flavours of clove spice & dark cherry.

Emilio Moro

2017 Ribera del Duero Tempranillo
Bodega Matsu Tempranillo 2018 Tasting Notes
This is a dry & rather tannic style of wine with flavours of dark cherry & subtly bitter dry spice, making it a bold Spanish red.

Bodega Matsu El Picaro

2018 Toro Tempranillo
Young & Co Super Fresh 2018 Tempranillo Tasting Notes
Bold & dry in taste, this is a classic example of Spanish Tempranillo, with subtle amounts of peppery spice & plump dark berries.

Young & Co Super Fresh

2018 Spanish Tempranillo

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