Tempranillo: The Spanish Gentleman

Spain’s noble grape Tempranillo is indigenous to Spain and dates back to before the time of Christ. It has been grown on the Iberian Peninsula since the Phoenicians settled it in 1100 B.C.

  • thick skin
  • ripens early, hence the name (temprano means early in Spanish)
  • likes chalk
  • likes altitude (daytime heat, cool nights)
  • relatively neutral – blends well with other varieties (Garnacha, Graciano, Cabernet, Merlot) and takes on much character from aging in oak
  • varietal Tempranillo – plum and strawberry, tobacco, vanilla, leather and herb
  • medium plus tannins, medium minus acidity
  • Portugal, Mexico, New Zealand, California, Washington, South Africa, Texas, Australia, Argentina, Portugal, Uruguay, Turkey, Canada, and Arizona

Tempranillo is the lead grape in Spain’s most famous wine, Rioja.    There it is blended with Garnacha (which adds body and alcohol), Mazuelo (for flavors), and Graciano (for additional aromas).

Tempranillo goes by more than a dozen different names around the world, depending on where it is cultivated: Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero, Tinta de Toro in Toro, Ull de Llebre in Catalonia, Cencibel in La Mancha and Tinto Roriz in Portugal.

Spanish Tempranillo (and Rioja) Aging Grades

  • Vin Joven – usually unaged – drink young
  • Crianza – two-year aging, at least 6 months in oak – usually aggressive American oak
  • Reserva – three-year aging, at least one year in oak
  • Gran Reserva – five-year aging, at least two years in oak