As red grapes go, we think of noble grapes first: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. While these are all lovely and delicious, there are so many other fabulous red wines to try, and many that aren’t from France.
One of these is the Tempranillo grape from Rioja, Spain. The name itself comes from the Spanish word, temprano (early), which refers to the earlier ripening schedule of the grape compared to many other grapes. It’s actually one of the most widely planted grapes in the entire world and is slowly climbing into the ranks of the most popular wines in the industry.
There are four classifications for Tempranillo in Spain that refer to their aging and distributing requirements: Vin Joven, Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. Vin Joven can be released fairly young and are barely aged in oak while Crianza requires at least six months in oak of the two full years of aging. Reserva Tempranillo must have spent three years aging with at least one of them in oak barrels, and Gran Reserva is only released if it is believed to be a good vintage, requiring a full five years of aging with at least a year and a half in oak.
Like other Spanish grapes, the Tempranillo packs some serious flavor and isn’t for the faint of heart or palate. It displays a deep ruby color and is composed of flavors like cherry, plum, vanilla, and even earthy notes like leather and tobacco. It’s quite full-bodied and fairly high in tannins but lower in acidity.
A good Tempranillo will pair well with many savory dishes, especially those with high salt and spice levels. Because it’s of Spanish nature, it’s definitely a wonderful accompaniment for Latin flavors and dishes like tacos or cured meats, in addition to other classic European dishes like Italian red-sauce pastas or grilled red meats.
Tempranillo is becoming more and more popular around the globe so it’s pretty easy to find in your local wine shop. It’s the foundation grape in all wines from Rioja so do a little exploring and see what interesting bottles you can discover!
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