What Is Tempranillo Wine?

Azienda Agricola Beconcini Pietro, il tempranillo della Toscana

Fabio Ingrosso / Flickr CC 2.0 

Tempranillo (tem-pra-NEE-yo) is a wine grape that is used to make medium to full-bodied red wine, principally in Spain. The deeply colored grapes produce wines that are fruit-forward with hints of citrus and savory notes. Typically oak-aged, the wine is often labeled as "Rioja" in Spain (after the region) and is known as "Tinta Roriz" in Portugal. Tempranillo is somewhat high in alcohol, with levels in line with other red wines.

Fast Facts

  • Regions: Spain (Rioja, Toro, Ribera del Duero, Navarra), Portugal, Argentina
  • Origin: Iberian Peninsula
  • Sweetness: Dry
  • Color: Ruby to garnet red
  • ABV: 13–15% 

Tempranillo vs. Cabernet Sauvignon

Tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon are two food-friendly dry red wines that are aged in oak. Cabernet sauvignon originates in the Bordeaux region of France and tends to be richer and bolder, with a full body and high tannins. Both wines have dark fruit flavors with savory aspects, making them decent substitutions for each other when one isn't available at the store.

Taste and Flavor Profile

The tempranillo grape can result in red wine with a range of characteristics depending on how it is handled by winemakers. Ranging from medium to full-bodied with medium tannins and medium-low acidity, the dry red wine often carries a heady mix of red and black fruit on the nose and palate like sweet cherry and plum. Savory herbal and earthy notes like tobacco and dill mix with citrus peel for a balanced flavor profile. Oak aging adds touches of vanilla and cocoa. Aging can also greatly affect the flavor of tempranillo, adding depth and dimension to quality bottles.

How to Taste Wine

Follow a few easy steps when tasting wine to ensure you have the best experience:

  1. Look: Look at the wine, examining the color and opacity through the glass.
  2. Smell: Swirl your glass for about 10 seconds and take a quick whiff. Stick your nose into the glass for a deep inhale, getting your first impressions of the wine.
  3. Taste: Take a sip and let it roll around your mouth. Note the tannins, acidity, sugar, and alcohol content, then move on to tasting notes (fruit, spice, wood) and the finish.

Grapes and Wine Regions

Much of Spain's red wine glory hinges upon the jammy tempranillo grape. Found primarily in the northern regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero along with the centrally located La Mancha, tempranillo tends to be used for single bottle varieties and red wine blends. The grape is also grown in Portugal, Argentina, and sparingly in a few other regions. The almost black grape is early budding and early ripening (temprano means "early" in Spanish), with a spring and summer growing season and an early fall harvest in the northern hemisphere. Warm days, cool nights, and limestone or clay soils offer ideal growing conditions.

With no less than eight synonyms for this single grape, five in Spanish regions (Tinta de Toro, Tinta del Pais, Tinto Fino, Ull de Llebre, Cencibel) and two (Aragonez and Tinta Roriz) in Portugal, tempranillo can cause some serious consumer confusion. Fortunately, the term tempranillo tags many bottle labels these days, as do the regional place names of Rioja or Ribera del Duero.

Rioja wines, of which a vast majority is tempranillo, are classified according to how long they are aged:

  • Crianza: Wines aged for two years with red wines spending one year in barrels
  • Reserva: Wines aged for three years with red wines spending one year in barrels
  • Gran Reserva: Wines aged for five years with red wines spending two years in barrels

Food Pairings

Tempranillo wines are one of the most food-friendly wines around. Consider pairing tempranillo with hometown favorites like tapas, pork, grilled steak, and chorizo. Italian and tomato-based dishes like lasagna and pizza as well as burgers and barbecue meats mesh well with the red wine thanks to its savory notes.

Serve tempranillo at cellar temperature (60 to 68 F) in a red wine glass. Decant for about an hour before pouring. High-quality tempranillo can be cellared for at least 10 years.

Key Producers, Brands, and Buying Tips

Tempranillo can often be found in the red wine section of grocery stores, wine shops, and liquor stores. You'll find a greater selection in quality wine shops and online. Look for tempranillo on the label or the words "Rioja" or "Tinta Roriz." If you can't find tempranillo, pick up a bottle of cabernet sauvignon instead.

When shopping for tempranillo, these winemakers make consistently good bottles that are widely available:

  • Bodegas Roda
  • Aspaldi
  • La Rioja Alta
  • Cune
  • Bodegas Emilio Moro
  • Viña Otano
  • Bodegas Vega Sicilia
  • Baigorri