Wine varietals and styles

What is tempranillo?

5 May, 2022

Your essential guide to tempranillo.

Tempranillo (temp-rah-nee-oh) is Spain's most planted red wine grape. Boasting flavours of cherry, dried fig, tobacco, dill and cedar, it's most commonly planted in the Rioja wine region. It's also grown in Portugal, where it's known as tinta roriz and aragonéz.

Tempranillo grapes in a bucket

Characteristics of tempranillo

In its youth, tempranillo offers flavours of cherry, plum, tomato and dried fig. As it matures, flavours of cedar, leather, tobacco, vanilla, dill and clove evolve in the bottle.

Tempranillo in Australia

While tempranillo is extremely popular in the southwest of Europe, in Australia its parcels are small. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 2015) reported 736 hectares of planted tempranillo, in comparison to other popular red varieties like shiraz, which recorded 39,893 hectares and cabernet sauvignon registering 24,682 hectares. 

The 2021 National Vintage Survey states that 5874 tonnes of tempranillo were crushed, accounting for 0.3% of the total grape crush (where shiraz's grape crush was 538,402 tonnes, contributing 26.5% of the national crush).

Total crush of tempranillo by region

Riverland is the highest producing region in Australia (20%), followed by Murray Darling in Victoria (12%), Murray Darling in New South Wales (10%), the Riverina (9%) and the Barossa Valley (7%).

Black grapes growing on the vines with the sun in the background

Insights from Tasting Team member Ned Goodwin MW

Ned Goodwin MW says: "Tempranillo ripens earlier than shiraz and far earlier than grenache or the definitively late ripening mataro. It was considered extra seasoning in the Mediterranean potpourri of spice across our shifting vinous landscape. Yet while yields are tempered throughout Spain as widely spaced bush vines, crop loads are often pushed here with training systems established for automated viticulture and its economies-of-scale. Plantings in hot climates, too, have failed to deliver grapes of optimal physiological ripeness. Sugar levels rise, alcohols soar and yet the tannins remain brittle, green and unresolved." 

Ned says finally tempranillo is being planted in the right regions around Australia. "Vines, too, are of age. Appropriated to cooler regions, or propitiously elevated sites in warmer ones. Tempranillo is at last worth getting excited about."

Pairing food with tempranillo

Similar to pairing food with reds like cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese the high acid provides structure and cuts through fats and protein.

Joven wines can be paired with dishes like paella, tacos and tomato-based sauces and pastas. More mature wines that have had time on oak are a match for rich flavours like roast lamb, barbecued meats like steak, and smoky dishes.