Tempranillo: The Noble And Expressive Spanish Red Grape

Welcome to the world of Tempranillo, a noble red grape variety that stands as the embodiment of Spanish wine. Known for its versatility and profound expression of terroir, Tempranillo weaves a story of Spanish tradition, culture, and passion in every glass, offering an exploration of depth, structure, and beautifully balanced flavors.

A Brief History

Tempranillo, meaning ‘little early one’ in Spanish due to its early ripening nature, is native to Spain and has been cultivated on the Iberian Peninsula since the time of Phoenician settlements. It has gained global recognition through the wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, where it is used to produce some of Spain’s most renowned and high-quality wines.


In the vineyard, Tempranillo is adaptable to various climatic conditions but thrives particularly well in regions with a mix of hot days and cool nights. The grape is characterized by its thick skin, which contributes to the deep, ruby color of the wines. While capable of aging and developing complexity, Tempranillo also retains a vibrant fruit character, often showcasing a wide array of flavors from cherry to plum.

Flavour Profile

Tempranillo is known for producing medium- to full-bodied wines with balanced fruit, earth, and spice components. Common tasting notes include red fruits like cherry, plum, and raspberry, along with earthy undertones of leather, tobacco, or dusty soil. Tempranillo’s flavor profile often features warm spice nuances, such as clove, vanilla, or cinnamon. The wine’s aroma typically includes red fruit, earth, and spice elements, with occasional hints of dried herbs, flowers, or licorice. Oak aging can introduce additional layers of flavor and complexity, such as toast, cedar, or mocha.

Different Styles of Wine

Styles of Tempranillo range from young, fruity and fresh “Joven” style wines, to robust and complex Gran Reservas aged for many years in oak barrels. In Rioja and Ribera del Duero, traditional winemaking practices often involve extensive aging in American oak barrels, leading to round, vanilla-infused wines. Some modern producers are experimenting with less oak influence, creating fruitier and more terroir-driven expressions of the grape.

Wine Making and Maturation Options

Tempranillo’s affinity for oak is well-known. It responds well to both American and French oak maturation, which can impart notes of vanilla, clove, coconut, or toast. The period of oak aging, as well as the use of new or used barrels, can significantly influence the wine’s character, ranging from vibrant and fruity to complex and tannic.

Important Regions

While Tempranillo is grown across Spain, it is most prominently associated with the regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Other regions producing notable Tempranillo wines include Navarra, Toro, and La Mancha in Spain, as well as the Douro Valley in Portugal where it is known as Tinta Roriz. Outside of the Iberian Peninsula, the grape has found success in regions of Australia, California, and Argentina.

Food Pairing Suggestions

Tempranillo’s elegant structure and balanced profile make it an excellent choice for a wide range of food pairings. The wine’s medium tannins and acidity allow it to complement hearty meats like grilled or roasted beef, lamb, or game. Tempranillo’s earthy and savory notes work well with mushroom-based dishes, while its red fruit flavors can enhance tomato-based sauces or Spanish tapas. The wine also pairs beautifully with a variety of cheeses, particularly aged, hard varieties like Manchego or Parmesan.

Tempranillo invites you to embark on a journey deep into the heart of Spanish viticulture, unraveling a rich tapestry of flavors, styles, and wine-making traditions. Whether you are drawn to the fruity vivacity of Joven wines, the vanilla-kissed expressions of traditionally-made Reservas, or the complex allure of Gran Reservas, there is a Tempranillo waiting to captivate your senses.

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Written by

Bernard Marr has a deep passion for wine. He has written hundreds of articles on wine, including features for Forbes, covering wine-making and industry trends. Away from the world of wine, Bernard is a world-renown business and technology futurist. He is the award winning author of over 20 best-selling books and has a combined audience of nearly 4 million people across his social media channels and newsletters.

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