Wine Profile: Tempranillo
Looking for an interesting new red wine? Tempranillo is an extremely versatile grape with a flavor profile that is something like a cross between Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tempranillo showcases a wide range of flavors based on the aging method and region it’s grown in. This makes it a great wine when it comes to food pairing. Best of all, it makes a killer rosé. Here’s everything you need to know.
TEMPRANILLO IS SPANISH FOR TEMPRANILLO
Tempranillo and Spain are virtually synonymous. It is the number one grape in the country and the 4th most planted varietal in the world. Tempranillo is a relatively old varietal. It is believed to have been brought to the Iberian peninsula over 3,000 years ago by the Phoenicians. The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish word Temprano, meaning early because it ripens earlier than most other red grapes native to Spain.
Perhaps most famous in Rioja, the first Spanish region to become a household name worldwide. Tempranillo is typically the dominant grape in the blend that makes up the eponymous Rioja wines. In Rioja, Tempranillo plays the role of Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux. It adds aroma, flavor, and aging potential to the wines.
Tempranillo isn’t just important in Rioja; it plays a big role in wines produced all across Spain and throughout the world. In Rioja, it produces refined and elegant wine. In the warmer, central regions of Spain, it produces wines that are concentrated and rich. These are regions like Ribera Del Duoro and Torro. Tempranillo is also an important grape in Spain’s western neighbor of Portugal. There the grape goes by the name of Tinta Roriz and is an important component of Port wines, as well as being increasingly produced as a spicy and rustic dry table wine.
Outside of Europe, it has found a foothold in the new world as well. In Mendoza Argentina, it makes a tasty alternative to their famous Malbec. And, though still relatively new on the scene, it has taken extremely well to California’s Mediterranean climate.
TEMPRANILLO HAS MANY FACES
Tempranillo wines are always a delicate balance of earth and fruit. The dominant flavors are typically cherry, dried fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. Regional differences also play a role in the flavor profile. New world examples of Tempranillo tend to offer more fruit-forward flavors. While old world examples tend to have more earthy notes.
But aging is the real deciding factor in the style and flavor profile of Tempranillo. A strict set of laws govern the aging of Tempranillo in Spain.
- Vin Joven: Rarely aged in oak, released young and meant to be consumed right away. Wine with this designation is rarely seen outside of Spain.
- Crianza: Required 2 years of age with at least 6 months in oak (traditionally American Oak)
- Reserva: Required 3 year of aging with 1 year in oak
- Gran Reserva: Produced only in great vintages. Requires a minimum of 5 years of age with 18 months in oak. Though most producers age for 20-30 months in oak.
Young Tempranillos are full of bright, fresh fruit and older, oak-aged wines develop flavors of dust, tobacco, and leather.
PLIABLE IN STYLE
This wide range of styles, from both regionality and aging techniques, make Tempranillo an incredibly versatile food wine. Most styles of Tempranillo pair well with red meat. Especially lamb and pork, foods that are not shockingly a big part of Spanish cuisine. Lighter, less oaked styles can also go really well with chicken or less hearty pasta. Interestingly, it is also great with vegetarian entrées or more herbal focused preparations of meat. Because it has such a strong earthy and herbal component it shines next to mint, fennel, or grilled vegetables. Just make sure you avoid highly bitter vegetables as these will make the wine taste harsh and bitter as well.
Tempranillo is also a great pairing with a lot of Mexican dishes, as long as they aren’t too spicy. Its flavors and fruit are rich enough to not get overpowered by the food. And the notes of earth are a great compliment to the cuisine
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