Hailed as Spain’s most important grape – the noble workhouse of Rioja and Ribera del Duero – Tempranillo reaches beyond the Iberian Peninsula to become the third-most-widely-planted grape in the world, finding popularity among wine growers and wine lovers everywhere.
As the mercury heats up and summer grilling season gets underway, this thick-skinned black grape elevates the backyard cookout to the next level.
Historically, Tempranillo has been associated with the heavily American-oaked red wines of Rioja, Spain’s most lauded region. But as the turn of the 21st century drew near, many of the region’s producers began shifting style – shortening aging and incorporating softer-grained French oak barrels – thus, the beauty of the grape began to emerge.
In the red wines of Rioja, Tempranillo plays the role of Cabernet Sauvignon – dark red fruit, leather, tobacco, red flowers, spice – while also offering vegetal and savory notes similar to Carignan. It produces full-bodied wines with pronounced, sometimes grippy, tannins, and high acidity, at times possessing a rustic quality, while other times silky and refined, as determined in the winemaking process.
A few hours southwest, in Spain’s Duero River Valley, in the center of Castilla y León, Tempranillo finds another home in Ribera del Duero. Although generally crafted in a more modern style, fruit-forward with silky texture, the hot dry climate, sandy soil, low rainfall, and differing clones result in a more powerful expression – darker fruit, more robust tannins, an overall brawny wine.
The New World
As Tempranillo’s popularity increased with American wine lovers, so did plantings in the United States. Texas’s viticultural areas offer striking similarities to regions of Spain and Portugal where Tempranillo thrives. Texas Hill Country closely resembles Portugal’s Alentejo region, where Tempranillo is known as Aragonês or Tinto Roriz, while the Texas High Plains, the state’s epicenter of grape cultivation, mimics the climate of Ribera del Duero. It is no surprise Tempranillo has found a new world home in Texas.
Introduced in California in the 1880’s, today Lodi produces 14.3% of California’s Tempranillo by tons crushed, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture 2017 crush report. In the late 1990’s Markus Bokisch launched Bokisch Vineyards with Terra Alta Vineyard, finding its Mediterranean-style micro-climate ideal for planting Tempranillo vines he brought from Spain. Along with their own bottling, Bokisch Vineyards provides fruit to other wineries as well.
Harney Lane Winery, McCay Cellars, St. Amant Winery, Fields Family, Peirano Estate Vineyards, and m2 Wines are among the seventeen plus wineries producing Tempranillo in Lodi.
In fact, winery members of Tempranillo Advocates, Producers, and Amigos Society (TAPAS) estimate between 1,500 – 2,000 acres of Tempranillo is planted in the United States. Beyond California and Texas, the grape can be found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of the northeast.
Across the equator, small productions of Tempranillo can be found in Australia, Chile, and even the land of Malbec – Argentina, home to over 13,742 acres, grown mostly in Mendoza. Familia Zuccardi, a name synonymous with Argentine wine quality, launched their Zuccardi label in 1997 with Tempranillo sourced from vineyards planted by third-generation owner Sebastian Zuccardi’s grandfather in 1974.
Cultivated in Paraje Altamire’s calcareous soil in the Uco Valley, a stone’s throw from the Andes Mountains, Sebastian Zuccadi explains what surprises him most is Tempranillo’s evolution: “the purity of fruit, spicy character, and mature tannins – I love how it grows and develops in the bottle.”
Perfect for Summer Cook-Outs
Don’t shy away from embracing this hearty red wine in summer, it’s rich profile, bold nature, and pronounced, yet silky tannins beg to be paired with fat – meat, cheese, pizza, potatoes, cobbler.
Give this wine a slight chill and pair with anything on the grill – hamburgers, hot dogs, baby back ribs, beef spare ribs, juicy rib eye steak, smoked brisket, lamb chops, and tomahawk steak.
Tempranillo is more savory than sweet, avoid syrupy barbecue sauces, opting instead for a dry-rub (coffee would be ideal) or a smokey sauce. This full-bodied red is sure to add sparks to your 4th of July barbecue, and all your cookouts.
Tempranillos to Enjoy:
2015 Beronia Reserva Rioja: Crafted of 95% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano, and 1% Mazuelo; red and black fruit, hint of cherry cola, warm baking spice, dark chocolate; silky tannins, structure, ample body, long finish
2006 Muriel Fincas de la Villa Gran Reserva Rioja: classic Rioja notes of dark dried berries, warm baking spice, worn leather, dried tobacco, trailing vanilla; rich, concentrated, complex
2015 Bodegas Viña Eguía Reserva Rioja: bright red fruit, spice, dried Herbs de Provence, licorice, roasted espresso beans, crushed velvet mouth-feel, elegant, long, refined
2017 Ferratus AO Ribera del Duero: fruit-forward modern style, ripe, red fruit, chocolate-covered cherry, spice, fresh tobacco; silky, contemporary, focused
2014 Ferratus Ribera del Duero: ripe, jammed red and black berries, dark chocolate, warm baking spice, trailing vanilla; lean and silky, rich, elegant
2014 Ferratus Sensaciones Ribera del Duero: hedonistic notes of dark fruit, spice, melting chocolate, crushed violets, cedar cigar box; sultry and long, round, structured
2014 Bokisch Tizona Gran Reserva Lodi: crafted of 100% Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero clone, meticulously crafted with notes of dark fruit, warm baking spice, dark chocolate, crushed violets, aged leather, cedar cigar box; crush velvet mouth-feel, long, focused, thoughtful
2017 Harney Lane Home Ranch Tempranillo Lodi: juicy plum, tart black currants, violets, tobacco, dusty cocoa; bold, juicy, grainy tannins, lots of length, mouth-watering
2017 Bending Branch Winery Tempranillo Newsome Vineyards Texas High Plains: dark and red fruit, warm baking spice, dusty earth, hint of cherry cola, eucalyptus; fruity and herbal with an earthy core, robust, pronounced, focused with a long finish
2017 Brennan Vineyards Texas Tempranillo: red and black berries, warm baking spice, dried herbs, leather bound cedar cigar box, dusty earth: rich yet lean, refined and long, fine grain tannins, structured
2015 Duchman Family Winery Tempranillo Salt Lick Vineyard Texas: black and red fruit, warm baking spice, dried herbs, licorice, dusty earth; rich and bold, fine-grain tannins, structure, focused long finish
2016 Pedernales Cellars Texas High Plains Tempranillo: bright red berries, dried wild herbs and tea, crushed violets, worn leather; full-bodied yet refined, juicy yet earthy, long and wide
2017 Reddy Vineyard TNT Red Blend Texas High Plains: Crafted of 75% Tempranillo and 25% Touriga Nacional; dark chocolate-covered cherry, warm black berry, baking spice, crumbled graham cracker, dried red flowers, Herbs de Provence, worn leather; bold and fierce, yet refined, find-grain tannins, structure, long finish
2017 Spicewood Vineyards Tempranillo Texas High Plains: dark ripe fruit, fresh and jammed, black tea, tobacco, licorice, black pepper; lean, focused, structured, long finish
2017 C.L. Butaud Tempranillo Texas High Plains: black and red berry, raisin, dusty earth, leather, smoke, black pepper; rich and round, silky tannins, long finish
2013 Zuccardi Q Santa Rosa Tempranillo Mendoza Argentina: classic chocolate-covered cherry, black berry, dried Mission fig, warm baking spice, smoke, black pepper, trailing vanilla, roasted hazelnut; grippy tannins, firm acidity, lean and focused palate, refined, long finish