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Spanish Wine Tempranillo

Spanish wine Tempranillo

The wine is light to medium ruby red in colour, with a spicy berry-plum aroma and flavour, in an oaky frame with an invigorating acidity. It is paired with most dishes but pairs best with meat and game. It is the kind of wine that improves over several years after bottling – it is a Tempranillo.

Tempranillo grape

Tempranillo is the earliest of the red wine varieties to mature on the vine. This is important for the mountainous regions of Spain, where warm days last only three months, and it is necessary to have time to harvest before it gets cold.

Fourth most planted in the world, and first in Spain by a distant margin. One of the nine noble red grape varieties – with its unique flavour profile. It is not just known but loved and respected by wine lovers all over the world.

This grape variety has spread worldwide, but its cradle and the place where it’s a staple in is Spain. Its berries are bluish-black, with a thick skin and colourless, juicy and very fleshy flesh. It is used to make single varieties, but it is best enjoyed as the main variety in blends. That is why it is used in 38 wines and in 14 of them as the main variety.

The grapes of a thousand wines

Tempranillo grows in different regions, and for this reason, the wines are different. The taste of the wine is influenced by differences in climate, soil composition and winemaking traditions of a particular region. Because of this feature, this grape is also called the grape of a thousand wines.

Tempranillo grapes like temperature contrasts – this makes them delicious. Low temperatures create optimal acidity, while heat raises sugar levels and fruiting intensity.

Northern Spain fits Tempranillo’s criteria perfectly. Moderate temperatures, rivers flowing in different directions, high hills that keep the nights cool, the two mountain ranges of Sierra de Cantabria and Sierra de la Demanda create a natural valley with ideal conditions for growing grapes.

Where they make the best Tempranillo wine

This variety is found in every corner of Spain, but the regions with Tempranillo exclusively and have been developing winemaking based on it for centuries are Rioja and Ribera del Duero.


This is the first Spanish region to receive DO status, which means the region is dedicated exclusively to winemaking and serves as a mark of quality. In 1991, the status was upgraded to DOCa – meaning that after receiving DO status, the quality of the drinks has remained at a high level.

The elevation of the local vineyards is 1,500 feet above sea level, and the soils are rich in lime deposits – almost ideal conditions.

¾ of all Spanish grapes are grown here, and 88% are red grapes. 

There are three sub-zones in the region: Alta, Alaves and Baja.

The best wine is produced in Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. They make wine using traditional techniques and Tempranillo with the addition of small amounts of Mazuello and Graciano, which also grow here. These additions make the wine slightly acidic, shifting it out of its neutral zone, a hallmark of classic Rioja wines. This wine combines sweet tannins and notes of ripe red fruits (strawberries, raspberries, plums). The wine is then aged in American oak barrels, which gives off a vanilla aroma.

The famous Rioja Reserva and Gran Reserva wines. These are wines aged for at least three and five years with unusual animal notes and bar flair.

The Baja region makes Tempranillo wine in the “new” corte moderna style. These are single-grade wines that are not aged in oak barrels or do so for a very short time.

Ribera del Duero

This is a region with harsh conditions where only Tempranillo grows, and the wine from the grapes grown here is not similar to Rioja wines. The taste, aroma, and even colour are different. Locals call Tempranillo differently: Tinto Fino, Tinta de Toro or Tinto del Pais.

This region received DO status in 1982, and very soon, it was granted DOCa status. It has its own quality system. For a wine to be labelled with the name Ribera del Duro, it must contain at least 75% Tempranillo.

How the wines of Ribera del Duero are characterized: they are dark, powerful, tannic, fierce, even muscular and extractive. Much of the reason for this is the strength; local wines contain a high percentage of alcohol.

If you compare Rioja wines to local wines, the difference would be like comparing a middleweight boxer and a heavyweight.

Classification of Tempranillo by ageing

Ageing the wine in oak barrels seriously changes the quality of the finished drink – it becomes more elite. The taste and aroma acquire additional facets, which cannot be obtained in any other way. Because of this, there is a classification according to the ageing of Tempranillo wines:

  1. Vin Joven. This wine is not aged in barrels at all or for a very short time. It is a mass wine for those who are not yet versed in the characteristics and nuances of wines but love a delicious drink. The tannins here are low. Some find similarities to Beaujolais Nouveau.
  1. Crianza. At least one year in an oak barrel. Preferably an older barrel to reduce the intensity of the oak and vanilla in the finished drink.
  1. Reserva. Three years of ageing, of which at least one year in oak cask. Here the taste and aroma of vanilla and oak, but with fruit notes as well.
  1. The Grand Reserva. This is an elite wine in every respect. It starts with the fact that only the best grape harvests are suitable for this category, and it is aged for at least five years: two years in the barrel and three years in the bottle. Flavours and aromas are maximized here. At the same time, this wine can continue to age and improve its quality.

The History of Tempranillo

If you want to know more, here is the history of this wine.

There is no scientific data about the origin of the variety, but the most plausible theory says that Tempranillo began to be cultivated during Phoenician times.

Since 1800, this variety has been the mainstay in Rioja. It came to Spain during the phylloxera (louse) epidemic in Europe. At that time, Bordeaux winemakers fled to Spanish lands across the Pyrenees mountains. 

The Spanish did not know how to properly grow grapes and make wine until the French taught them. After this help, the Spanish wine was aged in oak barrels, and the yields of the vineyards increased manifold.