Tempranillo is a black grape variety widely grown to make full-flavoured red wines in its native Spain. It is the main grape used in Rioja, and is often referred to as Spain's "noble grape". Its name is from the Spanish 'temprano' (early), a reference to the fact that it ripens several weeks earlier than most Spanish red grapes. It originated in Northern Spain and introduced to other countries in the last 100 years, being planted in Mexico, South America, USA, South Africa, Australia, Canada and recently here in New Zealand. Tempranillo is native to northern Spain and widely cultivated as far south as La Mancha. The two major regions that grow Tempranillo are Rioja in North Central Spain and Ribera del Duero, and also in the Penedes, Navarra and Valdepenas regions. The grape plays a role in the wines in two regions of Portugal, central Alentejo and Douro. In Alentejo Central it is known as Aragonez and used in red table wine blends, while in the Douro it is known as Tinta Roriz and mainly used in blends to make Port wine.
Tempranillo is occasionally bottled as a variety on its own but it also makes up about 90% of other blends of wine. It is blended with Garnacha Tinta, Mazuelo and Graciano and is aged in oak barrels. It is also a component of the more expensive Cabernet Sauvignon from the La Rioja region but Spanish law does not permit it to be listed on the label.
Typical Tempranillo wines will taste of ripe cherries with hints of cocoa and spices. The fact that it is aged in oak barrels adds to its taste and aroma and gives it a soft tannic quality. When it is consumed at an early age, the wine is very fruity and reminiscent of a fine Grenache. However as it ages, it starts to lose the fruity flavour and becomes more complex.
The berries are low in sugar and acid which leads to lower alcohol levels. Tannins levels are high, although the typical soft tannins are not especially intrusive. Tempranillo wines can be consumed young, but the most expensive ones are aged for several years in oak.