In my younger, crazier days I lived in Spain. I knew nada about wine, let alone the specific varietals available west of the Pyrenees. There is some truth to the saying that "youth is wasted on the young," but hopefully we learn and can pass it along. So today we're going to learn about Tempranillo. Also as a reminder we need to welcome Chris to the Wine Republic family as our new film guy and editor extraordinaire to help roll out vlog Jiu Jitsu Wine. Enjoy.
Varietal Overview: Tempranillo
History and Cultivation
Spain’s very own black-skinned Tempranillo grape isn’t often the first name that come to mind when thinking of common red wines, but it certainly can stand up to the classics like pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. The history of these grapes dates back over 3,000 years ago, when the Phoenicians brought vine cuttings over to the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal), where they quickly were established and remain as one of Spain and Portugal’s signature fine wines.
Today, Tempranillo grapes are most widely cultivated in the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions in Spain, located in the north central portion of the country. Although these grapes are primarily known in Spanish and Portuguese wine production, they are grown in pockets around the world, including in the western coast and southwest United States, South America, New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina. It is thought that the introduction of this grape varietal to the western hemisphere occurred with the Spanish Conquistador travels in the 17th century. All in all, Tempranillo grapes are actually the fourth most planted grape variety worldwide. In fact, the grape is so revered that it is considered one of the “nine red noble grapes”, which are known to produce top-quality wines indicative of their native regions.
Tempranillo grapes typically grow best at higher altitudes (such as in the mountainous terrain of northern Spain), but is subject to show great changes in growth and flavor when grown in different climates. The climate of the grape’s native region of Ribera del Duero and Rioja is somewhat unusual, and therefore Tempranillo grapes are one of the few varietals that can thrive in a continental Mediterranean climate. In the summertime, daily temperatures can peak at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, while still dropping massively to below 30 degrees Fahrenheit at night! This means that the grapes must be able to withstand these dramatic temperature fluctuations in such a short period of time. Oddly enough, these grapes are not necessarily considered hearty, as they are subject to viticultural hazards and issues in fruit quality during periods of draught or heavy rain.
The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish word Temprano, meaning early. Obviously, this is indicative of the early ripening of these grapes. However, for those that love to look at fall colors, Tempranillo can easily be identified in a vineyard, as it is one of the few varietals of grapes whose leaves turn bright ruby red in the later months of the year!
Tasting Profile and Pairing
Tempranillo wines range in color from medium ruby to garnet, and the wines have low viscosity, moderate acid and noticeable tannin structure. The wine tends to appear more translucent than other full-bodied reds, such as Syrah, due to the thin skins of the grapes. Both New World and Old World Tempranillo tends to be medium to full-bodied.
Although Old World Tempranillo (Spain and sometimes Portugal) is often savory with a fairly even balance between earth and fruit, it is also often blended to produce sweet and fine Portuguese Port Wine known as Tinta Roriz. Most Old World Spanish Tempranillo has a fine balance between cherry and leather flavors, and is oak-aged in American or French Oak, giving more body to the wine. One of the key characteristics of many Old World Spanish Tempranillo wines is the muddled-orange hue that the color of the wine can pick up due to the longer aging process (common in the longest-aged wines, known as Gran Reserva). Fruit flavors in most Spanish Tempranillo range from dried fig to tobacco and dill. As the sommeliers say, “what grows together goes together”, and that is truly the case for this wine. That being said, the best pairings for Spanish Tempranillo include signature dishes such as Spanish roasted pork, chorizo, or baked ham. For Gran Reserva Tempranillo, try red meat with a little more char, such as grilled lamb, tuna, or veal. Vegetarian dishes can be put in the mix too, as almost anything with roasted red peppers or pimento will pair nicely.
New World Tempranillo can be just as full-bodied, but also offer up a greater variety of red-fruit flavors and tend to be more fruit-forward. Typical American Tempranillo, for example, will have less of an earthy body and lack the strong presence of leather that characterizes the Spanish version. What these wines lack in overwhelming earth, they make up for in fruit such as tomato sauce, strawberry, and cherry. As is the case with Spanish Tempranillo, the New World versions of this wine will pair nicely with red meat, but can also be paired with lighter dishes such as grouper, vegetable stew, and roasted chicken wings. The fruit-forward and slightly less complex body of this wine makes it perfect for pairing with starters such as aged cheese as well.
Try this Recipe with Spanish Tempranillo
1 lb pork loin cut into 1/8" slices
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
4 Tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp Kosher salt (paleo diet: sea salt)
3 tsp paprika Spanish smoked type is best
In a glass bowl mix all the ingredients except for the pork and greens. Place in a freezer bag or glass bowl and add the sliced pork loin. Refrigerate for 24 hours. To cook: Heat some olive oil in a large skillet and quickly fry the pork slices, This is the "a la plancha" method or quick frying over high heat. You can also grill over fire or "al carbon" on your outdoor grill. A minute or 2 on each side over high heat on the grill will be enough since the slices are very thin.