Tempranillo is the premium red wine grape variety from the Rioja region in Spain. It is now challenging Sangiovese as the up and coming star of the red varietal wine scene in Australia.
New plantings throughout Australian wine regions over the past five years are just coming into bearing. In fact on a percentage basis Tempranillo is growing in popularity more rapidly than any other variety.
What makes this variety so exciting? Well, it makes wines which have good colour and good fruit flavours along with low acid and low tannins. This adds up to an easy drinking style. The wine also goes well with American oak.
In the vineyard the variety has a short growing season which makes it suitable for cooler areas.
In Spain the variety is the backbone of the wines of the Rioja and the Ribera del Duero regions in Northern and Central Spain. In these regions it is often blended with Graciano or Cabernet sauvignon playing a minor role. It is a component of Ribera del Duero's famous Vega Sicilia, the Spanish equivalent to Grange.
In Portugal the variety is used as a minor component in port, and some red table wines. Elsewhere in the world the major plantings are in Argentine and California. In the latter region it is called Valdepenas and is regarded as a unsuitable for making fine wine.
Tempranillo has taken off in Australia only in the past few years. Brown Brothers have been a pioneer of the variety, but there are now over 50 producers in about half of Autralia’s sixty wine regions. Although McLaren Vale has the highest number of producers variety is widely planted throughout the mainland Australian wine regions. The highest rated Tempranillo in James Halliday's Wine Companion 2005 is from Manton's Creek Vineyard in the Mornington Peninsula. Casella Wines, the makers of the hugely successful [yellowtail] range are also interested in the variety. They received a silver medal for a 2003 Tempranillo at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show 2004.
The obvious food match is to go with Spanish style dishes. A lighter bodied Tempranillo would go well with tapas, those delightful little snacks that originally were designed for accompanying sherry. A little plate of olives, some prawns and a few slices of Chorizo sausage may just what is needed.
The Spanish also love jamon, dry cured ham. Many bars in Spain have dozens of hams hanging up and there is always a ham in a special rack ready to be thinly carved for a snack to accompany a glass of wine. Sheep farming is a major industry in the in the Rioja and the Ribera del Duero regions. Hence grilled and especially roast lamb are local specialties, as well as the ideal accompaniment to Tempranillo. Sheep milk cheeses, roast stuffed peppers and vegetable casseroles would also be enhanced by a glass or two of these fine wines.
What then can we expect in future from Tempranillo in Australia? It is an interesting fact is that the variety is being tried in many wine regions. Virtually all of the plantings in Australia are new and the vineyard managers and winemakers are just starting to climb the learning curve. Some enthusiasts say Tempranillo is the next big thing in Australian red wines; others think that the Italian variety Sangiovese will triumph. The next few years will tell, in the meantime there will be some interesting wines to try.
About The Author
Darby Higgs is manager and editor of Vinodiversity a web based guide to Australian wine made with less common wine varieties.