Know Your Grapes: Tempranillo Taste and Pairings

What does tempranillo taste like and pair well with?

Tempranillo (pronounced "temp-rah-neel-oh") is probably the most popular grape grown in Spain, where it is used in a variety of wines. If you've had wines from Rioja, you've had a wine that is predominantly Tempranillo. While Tempranillo is not a commonly grown grape in the U.S., it is definitely worth checking out.

In her book "The Wine Bible", Karen Demasco says that "when young, [Tempranillo] bursts with cherries. After being aged - commonly for two years or more, usually in old American oak - Tempranillo takes on an earthy sweet vanillin flavor." I think this is a great description, as it makes clear that Tempranillo can either be a fun table wine or something more refined.

One thing that often impacts whether Tempranillo is more refined or more just simple and fruity is how much age it gets before being bottled or released. Spain employs a specific labeling system to let consumers know how long a certain wine has been aged. A crianza wine has been aged for a minimum of 2 years, with at least 6 months in oak. A reserva has been aged for a minimum of 3 years, with at least 1 year in oak. Finally, a gran reserva has been aged for at least 5 years, with at least 18 months in oak. If the label doesn't say any of those, that means the wine hasn't been significantly aged and by extension that it's meant for early consumption.

For a great tasting, try to grab a bottle of each aging designation and explore the differences! If you want to serve some food with that tasting, the best bets to pair with Tempranillo are braised, stewed or roasted meats, or game birds with a fruit sauce. But speaking from experience, it's great on its own as well!




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