Tempranillo is the dominant red grape variety in the Spanish wine region of Rioja. This grape gives tannic wines with delicious flavours of cherry, leather and vanilla. It is a diverse wine that pairs with many different types of food, especially lamb and pork dishes. In this wine guide you will learn more about the different styles of Tempranillo and the best food pairings for each style.
Last updated January 27th 2023
Tempranillo is mostly known as the main grape in the Spanish wine region of Rioja. It is, however, planted all over the world. Outside Spain, the most famous wine regions for this grape are in Portugal (Douro, Dão and Alentejo), where the grape is called Tinta Roriz or Aragonês. Does it sound complicated? Don’t worry. This wine guide will help you understand the typical characteristics of Tempranillo, its different styles, and the best food pairings for the grape.
Tempranillo is a popular dark grape variety which gives tannic and fruity wines with good acidity. Tempranillo wines are usually medium or full-bodied, with good structure. Characteristic juicy flavours of cherry, plum, and blackberries are accompanied with savory aromas of leather, herbs and tobacco. When Tempranillo is aged in oak, which is usually the case when grown in Rioja, it has aromas of vanilla and spices.
Note: Tempranillo is a relatively neutral grape, and when aged in oak it easily takes the flavors from the barrel. If you like the characteristic flavors of oak ageing, choose a Tempranillo which has been aged many months in oak.
Tempranillo is almost used as a synonym for Rioja wines, but the grape is grown all over the world. In fact, it is the fourth most planted grape variety in the world. The style differs depending on there the grape is grown. The most famous styles of Tempranillo are found in Rioja and Ribera del Duero, in Spain, and in Douro, in Portugal.
Tempranillo from the Rioja region in Spain is this grape's most famous style. Rioja wine is often aged in American oak, which gives its typical aromas of vanilla. This style is often called "Traditional" Rioja. Lately, more winemakers are starting to use less American oak to develop wines with a less intense vanilla profile. The vanilla profile can hide the typical aromas of the varietal, but flavours of cherry, dried fruit, plum and herbs are commonly found in Rioja wines made of Tempranillo. This new "modern" style is more elegant and has a more spicy profile.
Rioja uses a system of qualifying their wines in four levels, which makes it easier to find the style you are looking for.
Note: The grape is grown in many other parts of Spain, but often under a different name. In Ribera del Duero it is called Tinto fino or Tinto del país. In Toro it is called Tinto de toro, and in Catalonia it is called Ull de llebre. Many different names for the same grape variety!
Tempranillo is also widely planted in Portugal, but under the name Tinta Roriz or Aragonês. When grown in Portugal, the wine style is more spicy with little or no vanilla aromas.
Tinta Roriz is one of the grape varieties used in the famous Port wine from Portugal. It is grown in the Douro and Dão regions, in northern Portugal. The grape gives full-bodied red wines with good tannins, high acidity, freshness, good structure and typical aromas of cherry, berries, pepper and other spices.
Aragonês is grown in warm-climate Alentejo region, in southern Portugal. It gives inky, full-bodied and fruity red wines with good acidity.
Tempranillo is also grown outside Spain and Portugal. Argentina, Mexico, USA, Australia and New Zealand are just a few countries where Tempranillo is grown. The style differs, with many wine regions mimicking the popular Rioja style with typical vanilla aromas. There are also many young and light Tempranillo wines from the New World.
Tempranillo is a versatile grape variety which pairs well with many different dishes. The structure of the wine, in combination with its good acidity and juicy fruit flavours, make it a great food wine.
When paring Tempranillo with food, it is important to take into consideration the following characteristics of the wine:
The best serving temperature for Tempranillo is 14-17°C (57-63°F)
A classic food pairing for Tempranillo is lamb. Roasted lamb, grilled lamb, lamb chops, lamb burgers… Basically anything with lamb will taste good with Tempranillo! Lamb dishes usually contain many different herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and oregano. These herbs will pair perfectly with the savory aromas of the wine.
Tinta Roriz from Portugal is classically paired with lamb. An aged bold Tempranillo will also taste great with any lamb dish.
Tempranillo and pork is another perfect food and wine pairing. The aroma of aged Tempranillo will pair perfectly with chorizo, Jamón iberico, sausages, pork chops and basically any cut of pork.
Tips! Tempranillo / Tinta Roriz is a classic pairing with suckling pig (cochinillo asado in Spanish and leitão in Portuguese).
Tempranillo will pair well with basically any type of meat. Bold aged Tempranillo, such as Reserva or Gran reserva, or the Portuguese Tinta Roriz are excellent choices for grilled smokey meats. Try it with BBQ meats or burgers!
Tempranillo is also a good choice for rich meat stews, especially if it contains herbs and/or tomato.
Young Tempranillo, especially the Joven style, is a good red wine for tapas and appetizers. A light fruity Tempranillo pairs well with many different types of tapas. Young Tempranillo from Australia and USA can also be good choices.
Tempranillo is a great choice for tomato-based dishes, including pasta and pizza with tomato sauce. Lasagna, pasta arrabiata and different types of pizza are good food pairings for everyday Tempranillo, such as a Crianza from Rioja.
Tempranillo is one of the few bold red wines that pairs well with dishes with a touch of spiciness. It is especially good with tomato-based curries, burritos and chili con carne. Young Rioja wines will also pair well with Indian food, including mild curries.
Tips! Pair Tempranillo with moderately spicy dishes. If the dish is too spicy, it will make the wine taste dry and tannic.
The classic cheese pairing for Tempranillo is Manchego cheese. It is a Spanish cheese made from the milk of sheep of the Manchega breed. Tempranillo also pairs well with other sheep cheeses, including Pecorino, Idiazabal and Roncal.
Tips! In our Wine & Cheese Pairing Guide you can read about how to pair wine and cheese.
Enjoy your wine and food!