When you first start learning about wine, it can be pretty daunting. All those hard-to-pronounce names, snooty wine descriptions like “hints of leather and tobacco” and prices that can make you run for the beer aisle.
But Spain has a user-friendly solution for you. Tempranillo (temp – rah – NEE – yo). Quick background lesson — tempranillo is the “noble” grape of Spain, meaning that it’s one of the primary, foundational grapes of the wine industry there. Couple of quick fun facts. The grape gets its name from the word “temprano” which means “early” in Spanish. The grapes ripen about two weeks earlier than other grapes in Spain, which is a big bonus for wine makers. And if you see mystery words on a bottle of Spanish red wine, like “Jacivera” or “Ull de Llebre,” it’s probably Tempranillo. There are something in the neighborhood of 552 clones (yep, five HUNDRED) of Tempranillo in Spain and at least 50 of those names appear regularly on wine labels.
So here we go — 3 Reasons You Should Try Tempranillo
1. It’s really good wine. OK, I cheated a little in the numbering category. This isn’t exactly a big light bulb moment. But to be more specific, the reason that Tempranillo is worth a try is because it’s a really wide-ranging wine. You can get young Tempranillos (Joven – pronounced HO-ven) that are light and fruity and if you chill them just a bit, they’re great with tapas on the back porch in the summertime. If you have non-wine-drinker friends over, use an inexpensive Tempranillo to make Sangria and you’ve got instant patio party. Then on the other end of the spectrum you can get a Reserva (obviously, that means “reserve” — which is the better wine of that winemaker, and aged longer) Tempranillo that’s big and bold and can easily compare to a Cabernet Sauvignon. Now you’re talking grilling time. And if you’re cooking indoors, try roasted lamb. See how versatile? Tempranillo is your go-to red. Just ask your wine person to recommend a couple of different ones, and you’ll be hooked.
2. Price. I’m a big believer that wine doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy to be enjoyable. Yes, Spain has some very high-priced wines, but as the third largest wine producer in the world (bet you didn’t know that one), Spain is also widely recognized as the producer of great value wines. You can buy a great Spanish wine for a fraction of the cost of a comparable French or Italian wine. Now you have no excuse not to buy and try Spanish wines. Seriously, don’t even shy away from below-$10 Spanish wines. You’ll find some real gems. And Tempranillo is a great place to start.
3. Food friendly. In wine and food pairing classes they always taught us that in Europe wine was created to accompany food, and that you always start with the food and then find the wine to go with it. Here in the US we generally think of anything alcoholic as just for party time. But when you start pairing the right wine with food you’ll discover a whole new playground. And, you know what’s coming next — Tempranillo is a great food wine. Like we talked about earlier, you can find young Tempranillos that are lighter and a bit fruity, that you can chill and drink with lighter foods, or you can get big, bold Tempranillos that will go great with grilled or roasted meats.
So rush right out to your favorite wine store and start exploring. There are straight Tempranillos and lots of blends, primarily with Garnacha (Grenache), Carignan, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ll give you a head start — check out Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Although Rioja is more widely known in the U.S., Ribera del Duero is the favorite region of all my Spanish friends. If you bring a Ribera del Duero to a friends’ house in Spain, you’ve just scored big brownie points. And for here in the U.S., you’ll find that Spanish Tempranillo is fantastic wine and an amazing value.