Written by: Tim Edison

Updated: January 4, 2024

Complete Guide to Tempranillo Wine | Wine 101

Basket of ripe Tempranillo grapes

Cherry, raspberry, earth, leather, bold, rich… if there was ever a wine to encapsulate every aspect of the spectrum, it would be Tempranillo. 

Known by many names, and grown all over the world, this grape composes some of the premier wines of the world, from Rioja blends to Port to quirky Southern Oregon, you’ll need more than one lifetime to experience all the Tempranillo that the world has to offer. 

In this guide, we take a deep dive into the versatile grape that is Tempranillo, plus we’ll go over perfect food pairings, notable regions, plus a couple of awesome recommendations!

Characteristics of Tempranillo

Truth be told, there are many unique clones of Tempranillo around the world, each with its own preferred growing conditions and characteristics. That being said, Tempranillo is almost always going to be medium-bodied, with medium-high alcohol, tannins, and acidity.

Tempranillo is a wine that benefits from extended aging, especially when blended with other higher acid grapes. Over time, the tannins will soften and reveal a smooth wine with delicate oak spice complimented by dark fruit.

Tempranillo works wonderfully as a standalone varietal as it does in a blend. When blended, it adds aroma, acidity, and tremendous aging potential.

Due to its complexity and variety, Tempranillo makes for an easy wine to pair with a whole host of dishes, from charcuterie to tacos. 

Tempranillo Tasting Notes

As mentioned above, the flavors of Tempranillo will vary depending on where it is grown, the soil type, and the aging process. In Spain, where Tempranillo is the most popular red grape in use, it is expected to age for a minimum of 2 years and can age for as long as 25 years. 

When drunk “young” or after a couple of years of aging in barrels, Tempranillo exuberates bright, fresh red fruit flavors akin to a Burgundy Pinot Noir. After extended aging, those flavors round out to produce mellow dark fruit aromas and flavors of earth, dried leaves, and leather. 

With regards to climate, the best of Spain’s Tempranillo comes from Rioja, which is over 1,500 feet above sea level and experiences a cooler climate.

This creates a Tempranillo that has higher acid and thus makes for better aging. These vineyards also have nutrient-poor soil, which make for low yielding vineyards with concentrated flavors. 

Warmer climate Tempranillo can be expected to have lower acid and higher alcohol, making for more bright and zesty reds that are best drunk young or added to blends. 

How Tempranillo is Served

Tempranillo is best served at room temperature (60°-68°F) in a standard red wine glass. As for decanting, this is a definite benefit to older Tempranillo wines, as they will surely “open up” to reveal complex flavors with at least 30 minutes - 1 hour in a decanter. 

The Tempranillo Grape

While only one parent to Tempranillo has been discovered - Albillo Mayor - evidence suggests that Tempranillo has been around for 3,000 years, when it was first brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Phoenicians.

Since then, it has become Spain’s most notable red varietal and is one of the main components in the infamous Ports of Portugal. 

The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish term, temprano, meaning “early,” though you could also argue it means “temperamental,” considering it’s early ripening and difficulty growing in imperfect climates. 

Tempranillo succeeds best in cool climates that receive a moderate amount of heat. Its temperamental-ness means that the highest quality Tempranillos from Spain, the Reservas or Gran Reservas, are only made in truly exceptional years

In addition to the traditional Tempranillo, there is also a white mutation - Tempranillo Blanc - which was discovered in Rioja in the 1980s. While rare, this white variety does show promise for making light and refreshing white wines.

Notable Regions for Tempranillo

So, where exactly do the best examples of Tempranillo come from? We’ll give you a hint: it’s mostly in Spain.

In fact, over 80% of Tempranillo production is done in Spain. That being said, there are several notable or up-and-coming regions worth mentioning. 

Rioja, Spain

Rioja is Spain’s most notable wine region and lies in northern Spain along the banks of the Ebro River.

Rioja is one of the only two regions given the classification of Denominación de Origen Calificada, or DOCa. This is the highest level of wine classification in Spain and “guarantees” that wines from this region are of superior quality. 

Within Rioja there are three subregions, Rioja Alta, Rioja Alvesa, and Rioja Oriental (formerly Rioja Baja).

The best examples of Tempranillo come from Rioja Alta and Alvesa, where the limestone soil is nutrient-poor, making for low-yield wines with complex, concentrated flavors of dark fruit, tobacco, earth, and leather.

Spain is also notorious for its rigorous aging requirements, where the minimum amount of time a red wine must age is two years, and the maximum often being 20 years or more.

Extensive aging mellows out the wines richness and makes for a smooth wine with silky smooth tannins. 

Ribera del Duero, Spain

Second to Rioja in Spain in terms of successful Tempranillo production is Ribera del Duero, which lies two hours north of Madrid in the northern plateau.

This region is known for powerful reds rich with notes of coffee, ripe dark fruit, cocoa, and earth, with the most notable wines being smooth and refined. 

It is important to note that while both Rioja and Ribera del Duero make use of the Tempranillo grape, Ribera del Duero uses an entirely different clone that they refer to as Tinto Fino, or Tinta del País.

Duoro Valley, Portugal

The Duoro Valley is predominantly known for making Port wines, which are rich in flavor, very sweet, and heavily fortified with grape spirits. It’s one of those wines that’s hard to wrap your head around until you try it. Once you do, you’ll be hooked. 

Now, Port is made with a whole host of native Portuguese varietals, but one of the most influential grapes is Tempranillo, where it is also known as Tinta Roriz or Aragonez.

In addition to the Duoro Valley, smaller regions in Portugal such as Dão and Alentejo are loving this grape and the complexity it adds to affordable Portuguese table blends. 

Southern Oregon, USA

Oregon is most well known for its exceptional Pinot Noir coming from the Willamette Valley, though south of this region lies the lesser known region of Southern Oregon.

Due to its moderate climate and Pacific Ocean breeze, this region is becoming well known for producing good Tempranillo and Grenache wines

Tempranillo wines from Southern Oregon are usually served as a single varietal and can exhibit flavors of dried leaves, red fruit, and earth, with plenty of aging potential.

Mendoza, Argentina

Originally planted by Spanish settlers in the 19th century, Argentina proved to be a natural growing region for Tempranillo.

Unfortunately, it’s affinity for the climate made it a go-to choice for cheap jug wines. As Argentina expanded into the world market, Tempranillo largely went overlooked due to its poor reputation. 

Thankfully, winemakers are beginning to dedicate their energy to making full expressive examples with bright red fruit and elegant structure, plus excellent rosé versions. 

In addition to Mendoza, you can find good examples of Tempranillo south of the Uco Valley.

Tempranillo Food Pairings

Due to Tempranillo’s complexity and diverse flavor profile, it's the perfect pairing for a variety of dishes. 

Whether you stick to the local fare with Spanish cuisine, lean into those tobacco notes with smoked meats, or use it to accentuate light vegetarian dishes, there’s always a reason to serve Tempranillo for dinner. 

Smoked brisket - Sometimes you need to go big or go home, and when you’re serving up a bold and deeply flavorful dish like smoked brisket, you need a bold wine to match. Plush tannins and dark fruit will accentuate the savoriness of the meat perfectly. 

Burgers - Whether you like a charred black ‘n’ blue burger or a vegan bean patty, the dark fruit, bold tannins and pleasant acidity will work wonderfully with a tall glass of well-aged Tempranillo. 

Moroccan tagine - For the perfect vegetarian pairing, lean into that herbaceous-ness by serving up a young Tempranillo with bright red fruit flavors. This will accentuate the multi-dimensional flavors from a veggie-rich tagine, without amplifying the spice too much. 

Blue cheese - Arguably a better pairing with Port than chocolate or berry-rich desserts. Don’t knock it till you try it!

Discover more great Tempranillo food pairings in our new guide.

Awesome Tempranillo Wines to Try

Ready to get into the nitty gritty and learn about some excellent Tempranillo wines? Here are some awesome examples that thoroughly deserve your attention:

Under $15 - Bodegas Vizar Tempranillo 2018 

Bodegas Vizar Tempranillo 2018

If you’re looking for an example of a “younger” Tempranillo that’s as drinkable now as it will be for several years, then you have to try this one. 

This young and shiny version of Tempranillo is rich with bright cherry and red fruit flavor, making for an easy drinking patio wine, or served alongside a pizza and movie night.

Under $30 - Numanthia Termes 2018

Numanthia Termes 2018

Produced in the Toro region of Spain along the Dueor River, this example of Tempranillo is going to taste different than the classic versions of Rioja. Expect layers of dark fruit, fresh herbs, and cocoa laced throughout the palate. 

With a long lasting finish and elegant structure, you might even discover your new favorite region for Tempranillo in this wine. 

Under $100 - Garmón Continental 2018

Garmon Continental 2018

When you want a wine that’s guaranteed to be exceptional, you can rely on Ribera del Duero to deliver the goods.

This exquisite example of Tempranillo exudes silky smooth tannins and supple dark fruit that will leave you craving more. 

3 Interesting Facts About Tempranillo

  • Though still very much in its infancy as a wine producer, the state of Texas is showing promise for being able to grow some pretty darn good Tempranillo. The area of Fredericksburg in particular has some amazing wineries producing great wine.
  • The uniquely shaped leaves on Tempranillo vines are notorious for turning a bright red in the fall, making for quite the view. 
  • Traditionally, Tempranillo was grown in low bush vines, as opposed to trellising, as it is commonly grown now. 

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About the Author Tim Edison

Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).

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