Tempranillo

All you need to know about Tempranillo: A quick guide

Tempranillo is Spain’s signature red variety. Wines are known to be fruity and fleshy, while also having very complex, savory flavors! They are elegant and masculine at the same time. Tempranillo is a wine that makes you think!

In the past, Tempranillo was known to be aged in American Oak for long periods of time. This changed the overall aroma and flavor of the wine quite a bit! Recently winemakers have been using less American oak and we are starting to get to know the flavors of the Tempranillo grape! It is a really fun grape to drink. If you love juicy wines with some power and spice, give Tempranillo (often labeled by the region, Rioja) a try!

The following guide will illustrate what Tempranillo tastes like (aroma, flavor, and structure). It will also tell you where it’s from, provide you with common food recommendations, top producers, similar varietals, and let you know why you should be drinking more of it!!!

How would I describe Tempranillo?

Fleshy

Tempranillo is a varietal full of juicy red fruit flavors. Wines are usually very well balanced and not overpowering in any area, yet they stand out with great complexity!  

Spicy

When I think of Tempranillo, I think of Merlot with more red fruit and a LOT more spice! Black pepper and baking spices, typically from the oak are common. This is one reason Tempranillo wines pair fantastically with spicy cuisine!

Savory

Tempranillo has a lot of savory flavors as well (like I said, a lot going on in this variety)! Common taste descriptors can include herb, tomato, olive, and mineral notes. The fruit can sometimes hide behind these savory flavors!

What does Tempranillo taste like?

Tempranillo Taste

Tempranillo will often have fresh fruit flavors, or dried fruit flavors, depending on how long the wine is aged! These are the most familiar tastes and aromas I typically find in a glass of Tempranillo. It’s also common to find raspberry, strawberry, tomato, clove, anise, herbs, red flowers, balsamic, forest floor, cedar, and vanilla depending upon where the wine is from, and how it is made.

Remember, wine tastes are somewhat relative. There may be some different tasting notes you consistently find while drinking Tempranillo.  

What about structure?

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to structure for every grape, however, there IS a general range when it comes to body, acid, alcohol, and tannin for each. Below are general guidelines for classic representations. Growing conditions and winemaking techniques can impact each of the following.

Medium Body

Think of that weight as a liquid scale, from water (light body) to heavy cream (full body) in your mouth. Tempranillo can range from light to full depending on its classification but is generally medium bodied.

Body of wine

Medium Plus Acid

You can judge acidity based on whether your mouth waters after you take a sip of something. The more you salivate, the higher the acid. Acid levels in Tempranillo wines can vary from medium to high! 

acid in wine

Medium Plus Alcohol

You can feel alcohol ‘burn’ the back of your throat when you take a sip. Tempranillo has a good amount of alcohol. Oak can also influence this alcohol. 

alcohol in wine

Medium Tannin

Tannin contributes to the dryness of a wine. It comes from the skin of the grapes during the winemaking process. You can tell a wine has high tannin if it dries out your tongue. It imparts almost a bitter flavor. Tempranillo has balanced tannins, although, sometimes this can reach higher levels.

tannin in wine

Where is Tempranillo from?

wine from Spain

Spain

Primarily in Rioja and Ribera del Duero

Over 80% of Tempranillo in the world comes from Spain. Here it can be blended with small amounts of the Graciano and Mazuelo grape.

RIOJA DOCa: Some of the best and most age-worthy Tempranillo wines come from the Rioja region. Rioja wines are known for herbal flavors, minerality, and a good amount of oak. Most people pick up notes of dill, vanilla, or spice because of this. Wines from Rioja will be classified by age. Simple Rioja wines have little oak and 1-2 years aging. Crianza wines are aged for at least two years, one in oak. Reserva wines are aged for at least three years, one in oak. Gran Reserva wines are aged for five years or more, at least two in oak. The higher the classification, the more pricey the bottle.

RIBERA DEL DUERO DO: In Ribera del Duero, Tempranillo is known as Tinto Fino. Here it is a little more robust and has slightly more alcohol and less acid

TORO: In the Toro region, Tempranillo is known as Tinto de Toro. Toro wines are often bigger and riper.  

wine from Spain

Portugal

Primarily in Dao and Douro

Tempranillo is called Tinto Roriz in Portugal. It is often a blending varietal used in Port wines but can be bottled on its own as well. Tempranillo buds and ripens early, and here, it showcases a lot of berry fruit and spicy flavors. It can also be blended to create still wines with Portugal’s signature grape, Touriga Nacional. 

You can also find wonderful Zinfandel from the USA, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand.

What food should I pair with Tempranillo?

Antipasto and wine

Antipasto

Why?

Tempranillo has great acid to pair with cheese (especially Manchego)! It showcases fruity flavors that pair with jams or jelly, and savory flavors/notes of olives that complement both cured meats and olives! Really there’s no better wine for an antipasto plate than Tempranillo! 

Tacos and wine

Tacos

Why?

Tempranillo wine tends to pair best with the flavors of Spain and Mexico. Tacos are especially wonderful! The spicy notes in the wine complement the spice in the tacos. The acidity can stand up to tomato and cut through the protein. It’s a perfect match!

Burgers and wine

Burgers

Why?

This is a fun pairing for Tempranillo. Most people don’t think to do it, but it works quite well. Tempranillo has just enough acid and body for burgers. Add a little jalapeno to your burger and you’re all set! 

Other Pairings: Steak, Lamb, Beans, Paella, Root Vegetables, Garlic 

What other similar varieties would I enjoy?

(common confusions)

Shiraz

Sangiovese has:

  • more herbal and tomato elements
  • less oak influence
  • generally higher acid
Shiraz

Nebbiolo has:

  • lighter color
  • less oak influence
  • higher tannin
Cabernet Sauvignon

Pinot Noir has:

  • generally lighter body
  • less tannin
  • more fruit and less spice

A Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine with a passion for everything wine + beverage!