Best known as the basis for Rioja – in which it plays a starring role – Tempranillo is grown all over Spain and Portugal, although most recently it’s expanded beyond the Iberian Peninsula with plantings as far-flung as Australia, California and Argentina.
A dark red grape variety, the wine takes its name from temprano in Spanish, a nods to the fact that it ripens earlier than its counterparts. Because it’s often blended with other grapes – making up to 90 per cent of some bottles – it doesn’t have the same fame as better-known cousins such as Merlot or Pinot Noir, but its lack of recognition is wholly undeserved.
The Tempranillo is quite the chameleon, it turns out. It gives everything from light and fruity reds to oak-aged wines depth and complexity. A grape, if ever that was one, that deserves to be in the spotlight.
Medium-bodied on its own but fuller when blended – from Grenache to Cabernet Sauvignon – Tempranillo is usually ruby-red in colour with earthy notes of tobacco, strong aromas of caramel and a distinctive taste of strawberries (and other ripe red fruits).
Lauren Denyer, a WSET educator, says: "Tempranillo, the third most-planted grape variety in the world, is one of the best wines from the Iberian Peninsula. It can be grown in both cold and hot climates, which makes it very popular with grape-growers and consumers alike, as it can produce high-quality wines everywhere. With its chalky tannins and fresh acidity, Tempranillo is such an important grape variety that it has many synonyms, from Ull de Llebre in Catalunya to Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero.”
She adds: “The varied climates in which it’s grown explain how diverse the styles of wines made from it can be. It can make seriously fun, crunchy and youthful wines – like everyday Rioja – through to some of the most complex, full-bodied and concentrated wines in existence, such as those from Ribera del Duero and Toro.
Tempranillo has a great affinity with oak and some of the best examples will have spent extended time in French or American barrels. Many of these wines will be very complex with notes of black cherry, vanilla and smoke, resulting in a range of fine wines that you can cellar for years."
Good news for you, then, if you’ve got a bottle of Tempranillo knocking about at the back of your booze cupboard collecting dust: it might just be a corker.
Here, we poured ourselves a glass of the very best Tempranillo wines, all personally tried and tested (hic).
Aged for 10 months in American oak casks – then a further six in the bottle – this classic Rioja is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes, resulting in rich, jammy fruits with hints of sweetness, vanilla and spice. A steal of deal at just under a tenner.
Buy now £8.00, Tesco
Matured for a whopping 36 months in a combination of barrel and bottle, lush and velvety Castillo de Mendoza Rioja Reserva is made with strictly old-vine Tempranillo grapes and is bursting with flavours of bramble fruits and sweet spices. Powerful and exotic.
Buy now £24.50, Amathus Drinks
While this Spanish winery may be better known for its Cava, Freixenet also does a fine line in Riojas, as this bottle packed with 100 per cent Tempranillo grapes proves. Notes of fresh red berries and a full body combine to provide a smooth and long finish. The smart matt bottle is lovely to boot.
Buy now £9.00, Morrisons
Modern in style – both in wine and bottle – this Rioja Crianza is made from only Tempranillo grapes and features peppery and fruity flavours that stand up to even the heartiest of food. Carefully aged for 12 months in oak casks, it’s a rich wine that can be enjoyed right after popping the cork, with no need to delay.
Buy now £13.99, Selfridges
Flavours of liquorice, spice and dark fruit sing in this premium – but accessible – pick from a young winemaker championing a fresher style of Tinto de Pais: the local name for Tempranillo. The Quinta Milu typifies his signature style of rusticity, purity of fruit and incredible freshness. Simply sublime.
Buy now £17.80, Forest Wines
Clean and intense aromas of ripe cherries make way for a fresh palate of berry fruit with a delicate hint of vanilla in this understated Tempranillo. And all for just £7.99 – what’s not to love?
Buy now £7.99, Click n Drink
Rich, velvety-red and fruity, this bottle from the Extra Special label at Asda – the supermarket’s assurance of quality – features exclusively Tempranillo grapes and comes in at under a tenner. Elegant vanilla oak and sweet spices round-out a perfect wine to go with your roast.
Buy now £7.50, Asda
Hailing from a 100-year-old vineyard, this is a powerhouse of a Tempranillo, made by a female winemaker who has branched out on her own after working in the Ribera del Duero region for decades. The result is rather spectacular: complex with wild herbs and rich black fruits, delicately spiced aromas on the nose and a plush smoothness on the palate. Allow to breathe, whatever you do.
Buy now £29.99, Naked Wines
A bottle of Tempranillo with the booze taken out? Even hardened drinkers need a day off. This one from modern winemaker Wine-E has aromas of red fruit and oak, while its flavours are well-balanced and fresh with just a touch of acidity. Our verdict? Deliciously decent.
Buy now £13.73, Dry Drinker
Handpicked by the buyers at Morrisons as part of its premium collection, this Tempranillo is top of the pile, hailing from one of Spain’s more prominent wine-making regions and boasting robust and hearty flavours that make it the perfect match to a comforting roast.
Buy now £8.00, Morrisons
Incredibly round, well-balanced and intensely red, the Marques de Grinon Reserva Rioja is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes, and features wild forest fruits on the palate and toasty aromas on the nose. Delish.
Buy now £13.50, Ocado
Like Malbec? Then you’ll love this Rioja made from Tempranillo grapes in the heart of the renowned wine-making region. Elegant and spicy, it boasts flavours and aromas of black fruits, and slips down all-too-easily.
Buy now £7.35, Co-op
Harvested from Tempranillo grapes, this bottle comes from a small winemaker that has developed something of a cult following, and it’s not hard to see why. Smoky and dry, it’s got notes of black fruit, spice and tobacco, and is a full-bodied beauty that’s a fine match for lamb. Proof that sometimes you really do get what you pay for.
Buy now £94.99, Selfridges
The lovechild of a Tempranillo and a Malbec, this fine wine is bull-bodied yet utterly refined, featuring notes of black fruit and plum. A sizzler with a steak.
Buy now £14.99, Majestic
Abundant red and black fruit aromas overfloweth from this Toledo-born bottle, together with enticing spicy notes such as black pepper and vanilla. Comprising 34% Tempranillo, it’s aged for six months in American and French oak, and has real
Buy now £12.00, Ocado
Mature and oh-so aromatic, El Duque de Miralta – part of a collection of conveniently curated wines by Marks – has flavours of toasted coconut, red berry compote, leather and spice. And if that doesn’t entice you, then perhaps the fact that it’s aged for 24 months in American oak barrels, then a further three in the bottle, will. Gloriously silky and made from 100% Tempranillo grapes.
Buy now £16.00, M&S
Intense, fruity and lively, this purely Tempranillo expression hits the nail on the head with notes of cherries and strawberries, plus hints of chocolate and liquorice to spice things up. Interesting, it’s made without ageing in oak, meaning it’s lighter and brighter than other Tempranillos.
Buy now £11.99, Selfridges
We’ve got a lot of love for the label on this top Tempranillo. Dashing good looks aside, this ruby-red wine is made from 40-year-old wines to produce rich berries and soft strawberries on the palate. Lipsmackingly good.
Buy now £12.00, Ocado
Wild, dark fruit flavours on the palate and balsamic, toast and coffee on the nose make this seriously intense red a winner. Made from only Tempranillo grapes, a long, smoky finish wraps things up rather nicely, as does a smart and modern label. A conversation-starter on any table.
Buy now £23.96, Wine Direct
Young and vibrant, this 100% Tempranillo is fruity, uncomplicated and seriously easy to drink, providing a fresh contrast to more oaky Riojas. Swirl and sniff to enjoy aromas of wild blackberries and fresh cherries before savouring its moreish freshness on the tongue.
Buy now £8.99, Wickham Wine
Cherry-red in colour with aromas of juicy blackberries and spicy pepper, this Gran Reserva – aged for two years in American and French oak and three in the bottle – is cracking value for a wine of this calibre. Unctuous, full and complex – and 100 per cent Tempranillo.
Buy now £15.50, Wickham Wine
Sisters are doing it for themselves with this delicious Rioja from winemakers Cristina and María Amézola. Sweet pomegranate and strawberries on the nose combine with ripe raspberries, leather and jamón on the palate to devastatingly good effect.
Buy now £14.50, BBR
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