Which grape is believed to have been introduced to Spain and Portugal by the Phoenicians over 3,000 years ago and is the 4th most planted varietal in the world? If you answered Tempranillo, you’d be correct!
Tempranillo is an old grape known for its medium to full body, high tannins, and savory characteristics, but it can demonstrate different qualities depending on its age. Younger Tempranillos tend to be a little juicier with some spice, while older ones have deeper fruit notes with some earthiness and leather. It often has notes of cherry, plum, and dark berries.
Old World vs New World
Where Tempranillo is grown also plays a big role in its taste and body. Old World Tempranillos tend to exhibit more savory characteristics, with a balance between earth and fruit. New World Tempranillos lean fruitier but can still have some underlying savoriness.
Rioja is arguably the most well-known growing region for Tempranillo. It is located in north-central Spain and divided into 3 zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental. While more than a dozen varietals are grown there, Tempranillo makes up over 80% of the plantings.
Spanish Tempranillo is labeled based on how long it has been aged. The terms to look for are Generico/Joven, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. Generico/Joven does not have to be aged, Crianza is aged for at least 2 years, Reserva for at least 3, and Gran Reserva must be aged for at least 5 years. Crianza is the most widely available Spanish Tempranillo in the U.S., while Generico/Joven is harder to find.
Oregon is best known for its Pinot Noir, but Tempranillo is a rising star, particularly in the Umpqua Valley. This region has a shorter growing season, more similar to that in Rioja than to California, which has a much longer season. This wine can still be a challenge to find but it is a treat when you do. While still fruitier than its Spanish counterpart, Oregon Tempranillo also exhibits richness, spice, and complexity. It’s a region to watch as Tempranillo gains traction.
With its leather and earthy characteristics, Tempranillo is fairly food-friendly. Try it with grilled meats, strong cheeses (think: Manchego), olives, or vegetable stew for a palate pleasing meal.
Tempranillo is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. because it is versatile, approachable yet structured, and works well with so many foods. If you’re looking for something new to try that has some body and tannin but isn’t overly aggressive, Tempranillo is a great option.