When it comes to classic red wines, you rarely hear about Tempranillo first, at least not in the United States. Highly popular types of red wine–Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Zinfandel–tend to be discussed far more frequently.
But that isn’t so much the case in Australia.
Though Tempranillo is actually a Spanish grape, its wine has become popular and earned recognition especially in Australia, according to a feature in PS News. While other red wines still have more name recognition, Tempranillo is being embraced as a ‘drinkable’ red wine whose grapes grow even under harsh temperature conditions.
Part of the reason this lesser-known red wine is growing in popularity is for practical reasons. Climate change is already causing damage to Australia’s wineries, with increasing days of above average or even record high temperatures year round and reduced rainfall. In fact, just last summer Australia reported the hottest summer ever on record. It was over two degrees Celsius hotter on average. While that may not sound like much, it’s enough to cause a shift in the climate to the degree it affects the ecosystem, leads population more vulnerable to devastating storms, and wreaks havoc on delicate vineyards.
While certainly not an answer or long term solution, rising temperatures have led countries around the world to diversify what they grow. In Australia’s case, that means more people are getting acquainted with hardy Tempranillo grapes–and a surprisingly satisfying red wine.
But what is Tempranillo, how do you find the best wines, and what food would you pair it with? In this article, we’ll address all the questions you might have when it comes to finding the best bottles of Tempranillo wine, and even offer some suggestion for specific varieties.
What is Tempranillo?
Tempranillo grapes are the most prominent grapes grown in Rioja, a respected wine region in Spain. In fact, the name signifies ‘early’. The grapes got its name because they tend to ripen earlier than other grapes do. You can identify the grapes by jagged leaves, which turns red in autumn.
You may be surprised to learn that the Tempranillo plant is not uncommon, but in fact, ranks among the top five most planted grape varieties globally. It is also one of Spain’s ‘noble grapes’ While there is some postulation that the grapes share ancestry with Pinot Noir, though that is not conclusive. You can find Tempranillo wind, but also in blends with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
How is Tempranillo wine produced?
Tempranillo wine is produced in different ways, which has changed over time. Up through the 1990s, Tempranillo and almost all Spanish wines in the same growing region were oak aged, but in the past two decades more and more wine producers have been dissatisfied how a strong oak flavor has a tendency to mask the more subtle flavors. Now it is still aged, but not always. It is not uncommon to find Tempranillo aged an average of around twenty years.
Tempranillo is interesting in terms of cultivation in that it actually does best in variable climates, quite unlike many grapes which only thrive in cooler or warmer climates. Cooler temperatures help develop nuanced acidity, while warmer climates help develop sweetness. It is important to note that, while these grapes withstand temperature changes quite well, they are rather vulnerable to pests.
Why would I want to try Tempranillo?
Tempranillo may be lesser known, but it’s a pleasant red wine that’s versatile, pleasing, and can be paired with a variety of entrees. Another reason is that it’s fairly affordable, with many bottles hovering under twenty dollars and under.
What are the common characteristics of Tempranillo?
In order to find the best Tempranillo wines, you first need to understand the most representative characteristics. Not only will knowing this help you decide if it’s a variety of wine you would like, but also how to select the most representative–and best Tempranillo wines. Here’s what to know, and here’s what to look for.
- What kind of wine is Tempranillo? On a basic level, Tempranillo is a red wine, with hues ranging from deeper to medium ruby red. The large majority of Tempranillo is grown and produced in Spain, though about twenty percent is grown in other locations, including Argentina, Australia, and some portions of the United States.
- Is it dry or sweet? Tempranillo is a dry wine, like most red wines. Dry wines have little to no residual sugars left after the fermentation process, making it more ideal for wine pairings with savory foods, though the flavor notes give it a hint of sweetness.
- What are the most common flavor notes in Tempranillo? Tempranillo is considered a fairly mild and subtle wine–some even call it a neutral wine. That isn’t to say it is devoid of flavor but rather that those flavors are more gentle, delicate an unimposing than in other red wines. Gentle flavor notes combine fruity and sweet tastes with some savory notes. Herbs like dill add a bit of complexity to a pleasant ripe tomato and dark cherry palette, finished with a touch of dried fruit. Also common is darker berries or a mix of dark berries. Depending on the variety, you might also come across slightly sweet, peppery notes such as tobacco, vanilla and a touch of classic spices, such as nutmeg or clove. Overall it’s a fruity but savory, layered but subtle wine, most commonly with what is described as a long and refined finish.
- How acidic is Tempranillo? Acidity in wine gives you that puckering sensation as you drink. The acidity makes flavors seem sharper and brighter, while lower acidity provides for a smoother wine. Tempranillo has a medium level of acidity, adding to its reputation as a balanced wine, neither exceptionally bright or smooth, for a happy balance of both.
- What levels of tannins does it have? Tannins, compounds that naturally occur in plants, and make wine taste more astringent. Red wines as a whole have higher levels of tannins compared with white wine. Tempranillo has a medium level of tannins.
- Is it aged? Often. When it’s aged, Tempranillo is typically aged barrel aged for anywhere from a year to twenty years, with a year and a half being the most common.
- What are the best food pairings with Tempranillo wine? The nice thing about Tempranillo wine is that the subtle and layered flavors mean it pairs quite well with a variety of dishes. It’s not too pronounced and contains both sweet and savory flavor notes, producing a wine that’s highly versatile. Here are some of the best food pairings:
- Italian food with tomatoes as a base. Lasagna, pasta, stuffed tomatoes, Caprese salad and even pizzas or bruschetta all are excellent matches with Tempranillo wine, matching the wine’s sweet tomato flavor and more subtle savory notes.
- Mexican food, especially anything featuring corn. Classic Mexican dishes such as corn tortillas (quesadillas, fajitas), corn salad, street casserole, and tamales. Not only does the wine bring out some of the sweeter notes, but corn naturally pairs well with the tomato and herbaceous flavors Tempranillo is known for. It also pairs quite well with bean dishes
- Steak with mushrooms or a root or earthy vegetable
- Grilled chicken. Normally, red wine goes best with red meats, but the smokiness of the grill and the more balanced, neutral flavors mean that you can also get by with pairing Tempranillo with most things on the grill, so long as they are not overpowering.
How do I find the best Tempranillo wines?
The first step to finding the best Tempranillo wines is to understand its main characteristics. The best Tempranillo wines should contain the primary flavors or tomatoes and cherries and be accompanied by other savory flavors to create a nice balance. Let’s get into some other criteria to help you select your next Tempranillo wine:
- Should it be aged? This question is a source of contention, so it’s a bit tricky. Oak aging tends to add more complexity to the wine, softens wine’s tannins, and can add a toasted and even vanilla flavor. Overall, barrel-aged wines tend to be smoother, a bit more complex, but also a bit less acidic and tannic. If you want to soften Tempranillo further and are hoping for a very smooth wine, this could be a nice way to go–but caution is that barreling aging risks masking Tempranillo’s already very subtle flavors. If you would prefer to taste individual flavor notes, you’re best off finding a wine that has either not been oak aged or aged very little.
- Does origin matter? While there are perfectly good Tempranillo wines that come for a few places around the world, if you want the best Tempranillo wine, the growing region in Spain specializes in growing and cultivating the grapes, and the climate is also ideal for producing the most healthy grapes for more flavorful wine. In any case, be sure you’re aware where the wine comes from.
- Does he matter? As we mentioned, Tempranillo wine can range from light to deeper ruby red. The color is normally indicative of the color of the grapes that were used to make the wine. The deeper the hue, the more tannic and more intense the flavor will be; it tends to indicate how long the skins were kept on during the winemaking process. If you want to bring out the flavors more, as Tempranillo wine is naturally rather subdued, you may be more pleased with a deeper hue.
- What about wine blends? In fact, one hundred percent Tempranillo is not as common, though you can find a wine bottle with just Tempranillo. As for blends, aim for at least eighty to eighty-five percent Tempranillo or higher to make sure you can really enjoy the flavor of the grapes. Less than that and you won’t really get much of a sense of the authentic flavors. The best blends also should come from the same growing region, and contain no more than one or two other grapes to round out the flavor profile. Keep in mind that blends that to be fairly smooth and pleasing, but may not have as distinct of flavors.
- How do I find complexity in flavor? As a mild wine, one of the things to worry about is individual flavor notes getting lost, but another concern is there not being many dimensions. Unless you’re going for an oak aged, smooth finish, look for flavors that add some new layers to the fruity tomato and cherry hues. Licorice and spices like cloves or nutmeg are desirable.
- What if I’m still on the fence as to what to select? If you’re still undecided, think about what you’ll be pairing your wine with. If you’re having a meal that has touches of sweetness to it and wants a smooth, mild wine with elements of vanilla or a toasted flavor, look for a Tempranillo that’s been aged in oak. For a meal with a bit of spice or a grilled meal, skip the oak aging and instead opt for Tempranillo that contains some spicier flavor notes.
Do have suggestions for Tempranillo wines?
As we’ve mentioned, much of the Tempranillo on the market is not made purely from Tempranillo grapes. Still, we’ve included some ‘purely’ Tempranillo options, as well as blends with high levels of concentration of Tempranillo. All of them also come from Spain. This isn’t to say you can’t find quality wine elsewhere, of course, but these are some of our top picks.
A word about price: it is possible to find ‘vintage’ wine for one thousand dollars and even up, but Tempranillo as a whole is not overall expensive. All of the bottles on this list are under forty dollars.
- Vinos Torremoron Tempranillo 2017: This Tempranillo is more flavorful and a bit more zesty than many other varieties. Breaking out of subtle and neutral flavors, consumers enjoy deeper and fresh berry fruit, especially blueberries, for an interesting step outside of what you might expect. It’s higher in tannins and has smoky elements with a bit of pepper, making for a less conventional but vibrant wine that still has that signature long and more subtle finish. This is a great wine to pair with a spicier meal or grilled chicken.
- Bodegas Aldonia Vendimia Tempranillo 2017: This wine is great if you’re having a tomato-based Italian dish, and offers many of those pleasant and classic flavors you’d expect from Tempranillo. Red fruit is the prominent flavor, with a light orange citrus accent to add a playful touch, and a bit of licorice to balance the fruit flavors. Deeper flavors of chocolate and vanilla are present but not overwhelming, but add structure and produce a pleasant and versatile wine.
- Vina Herminia Tempranillo 2017: This is a nice bottle of wine if you’re looking for something that’s been barrel aged and exhibits that smooth, unobtrusive taste Tempranillo is known for. However, because it’s been aged in oak for just three months and then bottle aged for six months, you won’t have individual flavors become overtaken by the aging process, as can happen with Tempranillo. It provides structure, but still tastes fresh, with bright berries and gentle touches of vanilla.
- Tres Buhis Tempranillo 2017: This Tempranillo is a bit more tannic, with a deep red hue and signature cherry flavor notes, laced with some mild floral notes. Best served with pasta dishes and also suitable for cheese platters, this is mostly a classic Tempranillo, but with a touch of more earthy elements in place of peppery notes.
- Vina Galana Tempranillo 2016: Speaking of a bit more tannic wine with a deep hue, this wine presents with a deep ruby hue with raspberry, licorice, and red cherry It has a nice balanced and structured but not overly complicated feel, and a signature long and pleasant finish.
- Bodegas Castillo de Monjardín Clasico Tempranillo 2016: This, on the other hand, it is a bright ruby-hued wine, with ripe cherries accompanied by plums and some surprising notes from wild berries. While this is considered a fairly balanced wine, it’s less structured and instead, you get a bit of tang from the zest of ripe berries.
- Vina Eguia Tempranillo 2014: For an elegant wine that contains sweet but layered elements and some of those classic flavor notes, this is a nice pick. The first sip presents, foremost, ripe cherry notes followed by vanilla that comes from oak aging, and a touch of coconut and even balsamic. While not overly bold, it has a long and gentle finish and is useful for a variety of dishes.