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by David on June 20, 2009

Common synonyms (mostly Spanish and Portuguese): Valdepenas, Tinta Roriz, Aragonez, Tempranillo de la Rioja, Tinto de la Rioja, Tinto del Pais, Grenache de Logrono, Jacivera, Tinto de Toro, Tinto Madrid, Cencibel, Tinto Fino Ull de Llebre, Ojo de Liebre

The word temprano translates from Spanish as early and Tempranillo has earned its name as an early-ripening grape that’s the backbone of most of the best known wines in all of Spain. In fact, it’s grown in virtually every wine region in the country.

Tempranillo is a team player and marries very well with a number of varieties. In Spain it’s often blended with Grenache, which they call Garnacha, and Carignane, which they call Cariñena or Mazuelo. In recent years it’s become fashionable to blend Tempranillo with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in some parts of Spain. It’s also a key blending variety, known as Tinta Roriz, in the production of Port Wine. It becomes confusing because it has numerous pseudonyms, depending upon where it’s grown. Recently, for instance, DNA fingerprinting has shown that the variety we call Valdepeñas, which has been used to make every-day wine in the San Joaquin Valley of California, is the same as Tempranillo.

It’s a generous variety, capable of producing some impressive yields (which explains why it’s used for bulk-wine production). But, as you might suspect, color and fruit character are compromised, along with acidity as the yields go up, an important consideration especially here in sunny California. It has a thick skin, so when it’s properly managed it can make some deeply colored, very flavorful and long-lasting red wine. As an early ripener that’s prone to lose acidity, it shows best when it comes from a relatively cool climate, for instance here in the Napa Valley, it does very well in the marine influence of the Carneros region. It’s a bit of a chameleon that seems to morph with its environment and wine-making techniques, but it’s most often described as strawberry-like with a bit of earth, leather and spice, maybe slightly herbaceous.

Spain continues to be the biggest grower of Tempranillo by far, but it’s an extremely important variety in Portugal for their multi-variety Port blends. It’s also found in southern France, in fact there are those who believe it originated there as a spontaneous hybrid of Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. More recently it’s become rather trendy and has migrated to many places, notably Australia and California, where it gains popularity by the day.

Of course, Tempranillo is a natural with tapas and other Spanish-style dishes but you don’t need to limit yourself to Spanish cuisine. It’s delicious with flavorful grilled meats, pasta with red sauce, spicy foods and medium hard to hard cheeses. For tapas night, a light-bodied example would be wonderful with the delicious garlicky prawns, a dish of olives and a little bit of chorizo or Serrano ham. A full-bodied Tempranillo is delicious with the gaminess of lamb and also excellent with traditional Spanish cheeses like Manchego or Mahon. You can find delicious recipes to pair with Tempranillo, or any other variety, if you go to Colleen’s Kitchen. Salud!

Flavor profile: Strawberry, spice, earth, leather, tobacco
Weight: Medium bodied

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