Tempranillo is a grape grown in Spain and can be found as a single varietal, or as the dominant grape in blended reds, such as in a Rioja. When young, Tempranillo is fruity and fresh with cherry and dried fig flavours, with peppery notes. Yet this wine can be oaked and age, revealing complex flavours like cedar, leather and tobacco, along with grippy tannin, making this a treat for serious wine fans.

Classifications of Tempranillo

Tempranillo range from having little oak to 18 to 24 months of oak ageing, plus four years of bottle ageing.

Robel/Tinto is your least expensive and least aged Tempranillo and are wines that have been aged in oak for a couple of months, but not enough to meet regulatory requirements.

Crianza is released after two years of ageing, with a minimum of one year in oak barrels.

Reserva is sold after three years of ageing, and it must spend 1 year in oak.

Gran Reserva is released after 5 to 7 years of ageing, and a minimum of two years in oak. Furthermore, these wines are only made when there is an exceptional vintage, so they do not come out every year. You’ll pay much more money for this bottle.

Tempranillo and Food Pairings

The age of your Tempranillo will determine the best pairing. For example, younger Tempranillo has less complex flavours, so they aren’t suited for heavy or complicated meals.

For Young Tempranillo that are fresh and fruity, we’d recommend chicken wings, meat lovers pizza, turkey sausage, bacon, ham, scalloped potatoes, beef burritos, beef tacos, chili, sole, vegetable stew, pulled pork, roasted eggplant and grouper.

Reserva Tempranillo deserves something more complex, and we’d pair with Lamb Chops, Grilled Venison, Beef Wellington, or a Sirloin Steak.

Gran Reserva, with the complexity of this red, we’d recommend it as an after-dinner treat, or as a meal itself. Sit back and mull over the leather, dust, tobacco, cinnamon, and chocolate flavours. For food pairings, we’d go sirloin steak, grilled pigeon, suckling pig or lamb chops as they are tried and true pairings.  Basically, you want a food that is high in protein and a moderate amount of fat to grip into the tannin of the wine.

Where Else will you find Tempranillo?

Common to Spanish wine, Tempranillo will be found in Rioja and Navarra regions and are perhaps most popular due to their cherry and subtle cinnamon notes. However, Ribera del Duero, Toro, Cigales are three other regions that are common, and you’ll find that these reds have grippy tannin. La Mancha and Ribera Del Guadiana aren’t as popular worldwide but still offer fantastic Tempranillo reds at an affordable price.

Portugal grows Tempranillo to add to port, however single varietals exist, usually under the name Aragonez.

Argentina, California, Oregon and Texas are toying around with Tempranillo. I’ve never personally tried Tempranillo from the new world, but if I’m ever in Oregon, I will be certain to stop into Raptor Ridge as I’ve heard excellent things about Southern Oregon Tempranillo.