from red fruits to vanilla

A Brief Guide to Tempranillo – the King of Spanish Grapes


Ahead of International Tempranillo Day on Thursday November 10th, learn a little about the celebration and the history of Tempranillo, some interesting info about this red grape varietal, plus which RIEDEL glassware best suits Tempranillo wines.

International Tempranillo Day

An early November Celebration

International Tempranillo Day takes place each year on the second Thursday in November. First organized in 2011 by the Tapa Society, this day celebrates the tempranillo grape and all its regional synonyms. During International Tempranillo Day, wine enthusiasts are encouraged to open a bottle of tempranillo with loved ones and share it online to help boost the popularity of wines hailing from the Iberian Peninsula.


A background to Tempranillo

While International Tempranillo Day is a relatively new phenomenon, tempranillo itself goes back a whole lot further (although there is some mystery surrounding it!).

The first official mention of tempranillo comes from 1807. However, tempranillo is widely accepted to be much older than that. Tempranillo is thought to date back to at least the 9th century - a full 1,000 years earlier! Tempranillo may also have been introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Phoenicians - an ancient eastern Mediterranean civilization - over 3,000 years ago! In case you are unsure if that constitutes considering a grape varietal as old in wine terms, merlot originated in France in the 18th century, while the birth of cabernet sauvignon dates back to the 17th century. So tempranillo is far from being the new kid on the block! In any case, tempranillo has gone on to become a dominant grape across Spain, including in the country's famous Rioja wine region. It is also a key component of many Portuguese port wines, underlining its status as the leading player in Iberian wine-making.

While Spain continues to account for 87% of global tempranillo production, this grape is now grown worldwide. Tempranillo is currently widely planted in the Americas, France, Italy, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, China, and many more wine-growing nations. Overall, tempranillo is grown in more than 570,000 acres of the world’s vineyards, making it the third most planted grape varietal globally, behind cabernet sauvignon and merlot! Tempranillo's surge in popularity in recent decades has followed deliberate efforts in Spain to produce more of the varietal in recent decades. This approach has seen it leapfrog fellow Spanish grape airén in third spot globally, as well as becoming the most planted grape varietal in Spain.

Tempranillo is known for ripening weeks earlier than other Spanish red grapes, which helps to explain the naming of this thick-skinned varietal. The name tempranillo comes from the Spanish word temprano, meaning early. So tempranillo roughly translates to small early, which also references the grape’s relatively small size.

Depending on where you go, tempranillo might not be known the name we most commonly associate with it. There are a lot of synonyms for tempranillo; in various regions of Spain alone, it is called ull de llebre, cencibel, tinto fino, and tinta del país. In Portugal, you might see it referred to as aragonez or tinta roriz. And the list goes on!

What to expect from Tempranillo wines

Tempranillo typically makes for ruby-colored wines that are medium to full-bodied, low in acidity, and possess medium tannins. Some notable emerging flavors from tempranillo include red fruits such as strawberry, cherry, and raspberry, along with leather, herbs, tobacco, and vanilla. If you enjoy cabernet sauvignon or syrah then we feel confident that tempranillo wines will hit the spot for you.

A tempranillo wine's qualities will vary depending on its age. When shopping for tempranillo, you will likely come across labels like 'Roble', 'Crianza', 'Reserva', and 'Gran Reserva', which reference the wine's aging process. Young to medium-aged Tempranillos like Roble and Crianza impart lively, fruity flavors that have taken on some qualities from the barrel while retaining a balance of flavors. Older blends such as Reserva and Gran Reserva display deeper, darker fruit notes, while also taking on strong, leathery qualities from their increased time aging in the barrel.

Many of the best-known tempranillo wines hail from the famous Rioja region of Spain, while Rioja's neighboring region, Navarra, is also well-known for its tempranillo wines. It is possible to get your hands on single-varietal tempranillo wines, but tempranillo is more commonly used as a leading grape in a blend with the likes of garnacha and mazuelo. These grapes serve to add a little extra body and structure to the otherwise tempranillo-centric wine.

If you are looking for a tempranillo wine, it's likely the bottle will emphasize the wine-making region on the label, so keep an eye out for Rioja and Navarra wines as there's a good chance they'll be a tempranillo wine! The variety of names given to tempranillo in different regions also means that the various tempranillo synonyms we mentioned earlier are worth memorizing if you wish to be able to easily pick out a bottle when shopping around.


Food pairings

for tempranillo

We think that's a fair amount covered in the way of tempranillo-specific information, but what foods pair best with it? We have a few suggestions.

As previously mentioned, tempranillos possess classic savory aromas such as leather and tobacco, which make them a perfect match for the likes of rich cuts of lamb and meat stews. Cured meats are a sure winner too, which is unsurprising given tempranillo's Spanish origin, a part of the world famed for its cured meats. For a plant-based pairing, try sipping your tempranillo with tomatoes and mushroom-based pasta dishes like roasted lasagna. Mexican food goes excellently with tempranillo too, so it might be worth opening a bottle the next time you're serving up some tacos or burritos.

The right RIEDEL glass

for your Tempranillo

We suggest using one of our many RIEDEL Syrah/Shiraz glasses for your tempranillo wine. Tempranillo and syrah share a lot of similarities when it comes to their body, dryness, alcohol levels, and notes of red fruits, so our expertly-crafted syrah glasses are the perfect vessel for transporting these qualities to your palate.

The RIEDEL Winewings Syrah Glass features a unique flat-bottomed design that maximizes the surface area of your wine, allowing it to breathe more effectively. This allows a tempranillo's red fruit aromas to develop, helping it to balance with its spicey, earthy characteristics.

Our egg-shaped RIEDEL Veritas Old World Syrah Glasses each bring forward the soft fruit and earthy characteristics of your tempranillo and highlight a long, savory finish to each sip. The Performance Series features a light optic impact design, which increases the glass's inner surface area, allowing your tempranillo's bouquet and flavor to mature and prosper.

The RIEDEL Extreme Shiraz Glass features the series' signature extreme contours that echo the aesthetic of a tapered, polished diamond. The Extreme Shiraz Glass's impressive width provides ample space for tempranillo to breathe and develop, softening its strawberry and cherry notes.