Tempranillo is the fragrant red berried grape that partners along with Garnacha and Graciano to make Rioja wines. And just to make life difficult it exists under several other pseudonyms in Spain and Portugal; Tinta del Pais, Tinta Roriz, Tinta del Toro & Aragonez. It is often used as blending partner but if you want to taste it in its purest forms the Ribera del Duero region produces wonderfully rich versions, that benefit from its high altitude sites.
Typically Tempranillo should give you an elegant glass of red, brimming with wild strawberry, a little chalky on the tannin, giving a firm grip. And with age it becomes more supple, with leathery undertones and the fruit becomes sweeter, more caramelised. The best Tempranillo lingers almost permanently on the finish making it a very enticing wine.
Some basic rules are useful to know when buying Tempranillo from Rioja. These words are used to denote age.
Joven – means young typically unoaked.
Crianza – means at least two years age, of which six are in barrel.
Reserva – at least 3 years old with 1 year minimum in barrel.
Gran Reserva – at least 5 years old with eighteen months in barrel.
So oak is a big theme. It takes really well to oak and often a mix of American and French oak is used. American gives it more coconut and vanilla sweetness. Whilst French is more peppery and clove noted. Both adding dimension and richness to the wine.
Personally I’m a fan of Crianza or Reserva styles as Gran Reserva can mean the wine has been aged that bit too long and goes to mostly leather and dried fruit. But it is worth trying each style from one producer if you love Rioja to work out where you stand on that.
Tempranillo are dark skinned, medium sized berries. They have medium body and quite low acidity. Tannins are moderate but have a slightly chalky texture. The acidity means ageing potential is not great unless it is blended with other grapes. And grapes like Garnacha with their smooth soft palate can help tame its tannins. Joven styles often used carbonic maceration which make it very kirschy and aromatic.
Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon
Spain: Rioja, Navarra, Ribera del Duero, Toro, La Mancha
Portugal: Douro, Alentejo
Australia: McLaren, Barossa, Margaret River
Roast Lamb, Chorizo, Roasted peppers, Pork casseroles