Welcome to our new series of blog posts that will help familiarize you with grape varieties from around the world, particularly grapes that are doing well – or are up and coming – in California. For our first installment, we’ll be talking about Tempranillo, a grape variety that produces medium to full-bodied red wines.
Tempranillo is a thin-skinned red grape, lending to its smooth texture and lighter color, yet with a bold personality. It hails originally from the Iberian Peninsula of Spain, where it is also known as Cencibel, Tinto Fino, or Tinto del Pais. Across the border in Portugal, it is sometimes referred to as Tinta Roriz or Aragones. The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish word “temprano” which means “early” - a reference to the fact that Tempranillo grapes ripen several weeks earlier than most other Spanish grape varietals.
Tempranillo grapes can now be found planted in growing areas like California, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, South Africa, Washington State, and New Zealand. The grape shines in vineyards that have some elevation and where nights are cooler, providing the variety a necessary break from the hot sun.
TO BLEND OR NOT TO BLEND
Tempranillo is often blended, especially with Grenache, sometimes with Graciano and Carignane (as in the well-known wines from Rioja), and occasionally with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. When blended, Tempranillo is generally the majority component of a blend, often making upwards of 90% of the final product. Many California wineries are producing 100% varietal wines from Tempranillo.
One of the most famous blends incorporating Tempranillo is Vega Sicilia, from the Ribera del Duero region of Spain. Tempranillo is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to produce one of the most sought after and age worthy wines in the world.
In Portugal, Tempranillo is used in making dry red blends and in the production of Port, a sweet dessert wine.
Tempranillo is ruby red in color, exhibiting aromas and flavors of dark berries, leather, tobacco, and some vanilla and spice from oak aging. When it’s not blended, flavors lean a bit more towards berry, such as cherry and strawberry, as well as plum.
Tempranillo wines can sometimes spend too much time on American oak, leading to an overwhelming amount of vanilla flavors and hiding the grape’s true personality. Tempranillo tends to do well with some age - we think the best examples improve after a few years in the cellar.
Tempranillo goes well with charcuterie, especially cured Spanish ham like Jamon Iberico, and grilled veggies. It’s also a great varietal for pairing with pizza - red sauce, not white.
Smooth: Cherry, Spice, Cocoa, Toast
The grapes are biodynamically farmed in the cool climate of Edna Valley’s Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged for 19 months in oak barrels, 35% new French. This makes for a nice full body, balanced with bright red fruit flavors.
Bold: Powerful, Dark Fruit, Bing Cherry, Cedar
The wine is made in the Kongsgaard cellar on Atlas Peak in Napa by Evan Frazier, who is the General Manager for Kongsgaard Wines. The grapes are from the meticulously farmed Shake Ridge Vineyard in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills. The high altitude, rocky vineyard with volcanic soils lends a lot of flavor to this is a seductively powerful Tempranillo with chewy tannins and big fruit.
Smooth: Juicy, Blue Fruit, Black Cherry, Dark Chocolate
Shake Ridge is a popular vineyard for Tempranillo and this one has some distinct tannins that are balanced by juicy blue fruits. This is definitely one of those food friendly Tempranillos that will pair well with all types of tapas or charcuterie.
Elegant: Berry, Cranberry, Mineral, Smoky Oak
The three grape varieties in Caliberico Red are also the traditional blending grapes of Tempranillo’s hometown of Rioja. The wine is 51% Tempranillo from a cool climate vineyard, 26% organic, dry farmed Carignan from 100 year old vines, and 23% organically farmed Graciano. This is a charming and medium bodied wine that is perfectly suited to cured meats or any dishes (Spanish or otherwise) with a little spice to them.