aka Tempranillo


Tempranillo is a black grape widely cultivated to make full-bodied red wines in its native home of Spain.  Rioja, in north central Spain, and Ribera del Duero, which lies a bit further south, are the two major regions that grow Tempranillo.  While the grape has seen much success grown in the cooler climates of northern Spain, Tempranillo is also widely grown as far south as La Mancha.

Until the 17th century Tempranillo-type vines were largely confined to mainland Spain.  As Spanish Conquistadors set out for the New World they brought the grape with them, most likely as seeds.  Tempranillo arrived in California already bearing the name Valdepeñas.  Four centuries later the grape has been able to retain much of its genetic identity resembling its Spanish ancestor.

Places It Is Grown

Despite the vine’s apparent fragility, Tempranillo has traveled widely during the last century.  After much trial and error, the grape has become established in many surprising countries worldwide. 

While the grape flourished in Spain for centuries, the last 100 years has seen great proliferation of the grape around the world.  It has been planted in Mexico, New Zealand, South America (Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay), South Africa, Australia, Turkey and Canada.  Surprisingly, there are also some plantings of the grape in Neiba, Dominican Republic.

Small amounts of Tempranillo are also grown in California, Washington and Oregon.  It was probably first introduced in California in the late 1890s in Amador, Calaveras and El Dorado counties, Alexander Valley, Lodi, Sonoma, and Paso Robles.  All of these counties are now producing and bottling Tempranillo.

Properties Of Grape

Tempranillo, which means “little early one” was aptly named due to its tendency to ripen early in a short growing season.  On a worldwide basis, Tempranillo has many different regional identities, including Aragon, Cencibel, Extremadura, Valdepeñas with many derivatives of each of those identities.

One identity that arose, unexpectedly, was  a mutant grape isolated in Rioja during the 1980s.  While the grapes genetic stability is high  this mutant clone produces yellow-green grapes, rather than the normal blue-black ones.  After some confusion about what to do, this mutant grape is now being distributed to growers by the Spanish government.

Vines of the Tempranillo grape grow best in cooler climates.  The vines have a low resistance to many diseases and pests and they tolerate heat well.  However, in the warmer climates, the fruit can develop indistinct flavors and undesirable characteristics.  The vines also have a tendency to over-crop and the clusters are usually large.

Over the centuries, Tempranillo’s high susceptibility to pests and diseases has not been solved.  The disease phylloxera, which devastated stocks in the 19th century, still threatens the vine today and has posed challenges to grape production.  In Spain, the practice of grafting the vine onto more resistant root stock, has resulted in a slightly different grape style from that which is grown in South America.

Tempranillo is not often bottled as a varietal.  Vintners prefer to use the grape as a base in variety blends.  This is due to the positive qualities of its aromas and flavors and its negative qualities of being easily overpowered by oak.  Tempranillo often combines elements of berry-like fruit, herbaceousness, an earthy-leathery character, plum, tobacco, vanilla, and good minerality.  When made into a blend Tempranillo is most frequently paired with Grenache (aka Garnacha in Spain), Carignan (aka Mazuelo in Spain’s Rioja region) and, more recently, Cabernet Sauvignon.

While Tempranillo wines can be consumed young most expensive ones are aged for several years in oak barrels. The resulting wines are ruby red in color.  Overall, Tempranillo grapes tend to be low in acidity and in sugar, high in pH and almost always high in tannins due to the thickness of their skins.

Partnering With Food

Rule #1: Matching the alcohol level and body of the wine to the heaviness of the food should make for a proper pairing every time.

Tempranillo wines are some of the most food-friendly wines around.  Because they are often paired with other grapes, Tempranillo offers great versatility and value;  all of this without forsaking flavor and lift.  When pairing Tempranillo with foods pay close attention to its place of origin.  “Hometown” favorites will almost always pair well.

Below are a list of foods and dishes that should pair well with different types of Valdepeñas:

  • Banderillas Tapas
  • Pork shoulder (Pernil)
  • Calamares en su Tinta (Spanish Calamari cookin in its ink)
  •  Pork Chop and Rice Casserole
  • Sauteed Tuna with Onions and Tomatoes
  • Beef Tenderloin with Green Peppercorns
  • Grilled Jumbo Shrimp (White grape)
  • Chilean Empanadas de Horno

Restaurants With These Types of Dishes

To view restaurants that serve appetizers, entrees and other dishes that partner well with this grape type, click here….

About americanwinegrape

American Wine Grape Distributors Inc. AKA A. Silvestro Wine Grape, has been in business for over 5 decades. We are wine enthusiasts just like you and want to share in that enjoyment. This is why we are developing a new and exciting platform for growers, restaurants, sommeliers and home winemakers. Our goal is to bring the wine community together and is the driving force behind our new blog.

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