Chances are you’re familiar with Tempranillo. After all, it’s the dominant variety in Rioja, Spain’s most famous red wines. While you’ve probably tasted it and loved it, there’s a lot to learn about this prized Spanish variety. 

What is Tempranillo? 

Tempranillo is one of the nine noble red grape varieties, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Malbec.

The grape is of Spanish origin and is mainly found in the Northern part of Spain. It has a thick-skin and ripens early in the season, a few weeks before most other red grapes in the country. In fact, “Tempranillo” is derived from “temprano” which means "early" in Spanish. 

There’s also a white mutation of the grape called Tempranillo Blanco, which is exclusively used in the production of white Rioja DOC

Where is Tempranillo grown? 

Although grown in many countries around the world, more than 90% of Tempranillo is grown in Spain. The majority of production here takes place in the North, in the regions of Rioja and Navarra. Some great examples can also be found in Ribera del Duero (where it is called “Tinto Fino” or “Tinto del Pais”) and Valdepeñas (where it is known as “Cincibel”).

Portugal also produces some notable Tempranillo wines. Here the grape is named “Tinta Roriz'' when used in the production of Port or “Aragonês” in other regions.

Tempranillo is becoming increasingly popular around the world and is vinified in some parts of the New World such as Argentina, Australia and the USA.

What can you expect? 

From simple and fruit-forward to well-structured and complex, Tempranillo wines vary in style depending predominantly on the wine making approach adopted by the producer. 

Traditional style 

Traditionally, Tempranillo is a dominant variety in red blends. In Spain and particularly in Rioja, it is blended with the local varieties of Garnacha, Graciano, Cariñena or with international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon.

It produces powerful and often premium age-worthy wines. This is because it is commonly matured in oak barrels (from 6 months for Crianza to 12 months for Reserva and 18 months for Gran Reserva) which imparts more tannins to the wine and adds flavours of vanilla, sweet spice, tobacco and leather as it develops over  time. 

Modern style 

Fermented as a single varietal, Tempranillo is an increasingly popular early-drinking style. It doesn’t go through oak and the wine making technique used in this instance is called semi-carbonic maceration - an approach that is also widely used in the making of Beaujolais.

It results in an intensely fruity wine with a red fruit profile and a strong scent of strawberry. In Rioja, these wines are often labeled as Joven or simply Tempranillo.

Where do you start? 

Now that you know there’s more to Tempranillo than Rioja, which one will you try next? Explore hundreds of Tempranillo wines on Winebuyers today. 

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