Tempranillo wines

Made with the Tempranillo grape variety

Tempranillo is a grape variety widely grown to produce full-bodied red wines in Spain, where it originated. It is considered native to Rioja. His name is short for early, which refers to the fact that mature several weeks earlier than most Spanish red grape varieties. It is thick-skinned grapes. It grows best at relatively high altitudes, but can tolerate warmer climates. Tempranillo wines can be consumed young, but the most expensive are aged for several years in oak barrels. They are ruby red with aromas of berries, plum, snuff, vanilla, leather and grass. The tempranillo grape juice produces a balanced sugar, color and acidity, though this is sometimes limited. Palate has a frank, interesting young wine, velvety when aged. There is a very wide range of synonyms: Cencibel, ull llebre, tinto de Madrid, ink the country, Red Bank, Tinta de Toro.

The Tempranillo grape, the most common red variety in Spain, is known as the grape of a thousand wines because, depending on where grows, it has a different name and characteristics.  In Rioja it is Tempranillo, in Ribera de Duero, Tinto Fino or Tinta del País, in La Mancha, Cencibel, in Catalonia Ull de Llebre, in Portugal Tinta Roriz, in the USA Valdepeñas...

Tempranillo characteristics

Considered one of the 9 noble red grapes, this is a variety with a short cycle. That means the period between flowering and ripening is shorter than average. Hence the name Tempranillo. 

It is an upright and very vigorous variety. The berries are circular, usually medium-sized, with thick black-blue skin and non-pigmented, juicy and very fleshy pulp. 

Thanks to its early maturation and good fertility, production is usually high and regular. However, it should be taken into account that high yields give little acidity and aromatic complexity. To prevent this, it is best to plant the strains in poor soils that give very low yields. 

It should also be taken into account that the variety is very prone to fungal infestations from mildew and oidium. Moisture is its number one enemy. The ideal climate for this variety is the continental Mediterranean climate that is characterised by big contrasts in temperature between day and night. 

Tempranillo wine tasting

The Tempranillo grape variety allows the production of single-variety wines that are already very complex in themselves. But where acidity and colour are light, it has some friends it can count on.

Single-variety wines with tempranillo

Tempranillo variety wines come from plots located at high altitudes, with cold, limestone and clay soils that give full-bodied, aromatic and very elegant wines. 

Coupages with tempranillo

Varieties like Graciano, Mazuelo and Garnacha are very good companions for the Tempranillo variety. While the first two provide acidity and tannins, the third helps increase the wine’s aromatic potential. 

Likewise, Tempranillo is a variety that really suits barrel aging and bottle storage. Both American and French oak are perfect for this. That results in two types of wines:

Young tempranillo wines 

Young wines are characterised by their freshness and fruitiness.

Aged tempranillo wines

Wines that have aged in wood stand out for their volume and aromatic complexity.

To look at, the Tempranillo variety offers an intense red colour with violet hues in its youth and more orange tones when it is barrel-aged. 

On the nose, it has a marked fruity character reminiscent of fresh or more ripe red fruits, depending on the aging. These aromas are often accompanied by herbaceous, floral and milky touches. When aged in oak, they take on aromas of spices, vanilla and tobacco.

On the palate they are silky, elegant and balanced with fine tannins. These are full-boded wines with a mild acidity and dry tannins. It has a frank palate with notes of wild red fruits that, along with the oak, add notes of chocolate and vanilla. 

Pairing with Tempranillo wines

The Tempranillo variety goes well with many different dishes. The young wines go well with pizzas, pasta dishes with light sauces or slightly more intense rice dishes.

Likewise, Tempranillo is a great companion for spicy dishes, like Asian or Mexican food. 

But you have to be a bit more careful with cheeses. Young wines can be paired with a soft cheese like brie or camembert. Wines with a little more body are not at risk of being lost with a Manchego cheese.

In terms of starters, both charcuterie and serrano ham are great partners.

With meats, roasts are a good pairing for Tempranillo. Stewed white meats, 

red meats or feathered game go perfectly. 

River fish like trout or salmon are also a very good option to enhance the flavours without masking them at all.

Growing areas

The Tempranillo variety is the most cultivated grape in Spain and the grape that made the country’s wines well known. It is mainly grown in inland areas with a contrasting climate. Its main producers are in Rioja and Ribera de Duero, but there are also some in Calatayud, Cigales, La Mancha, Somontano, Valdepeñas, Conca de Barberà and Costers del Segre. It has now started to spread to other parts of the world like France, Portugal, Argentina and the USA. 

Varieties similar to Tempranillo

People who like wines made mostly with the Tempranillo variety will probably also like wines made with Sagrantino. This is an Italian native variety grown in the region of Umbria in central Italy.  

Another similar variety is the Malvasía Nera, another Italian grape that is widespread from Piedmont to Puglia. It is a very Mediterranean variety that came about by crossing the Malvasía del Chianti and Negroamaro varieties.

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