Regarded as Spain’s noble grape, Tempranillo is mostly commonly known throughout the world as the main grape variety used to make Rioja. Its name comes from the Spanish word, temprana, which means early, referring to the fact that it’s an early-ripening red variety.
In Australia, Tempranillo is taking off, having been planted throughout our wine growing areas. Some of our regions having the greatest success with it are Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Heathcote and Margaret River.
To tell us more about this Spanish temptation, we caught up with Peter Leske, whose Adelaide Hills-based brand, La Linea, is almost exclusively focussed on Tempranillo, as well as Natasha Mooney, another winemaker with a penchant for Temp from the Hills.
While Tempranillo is thought to have originated in the Rioja wine region, its versatility and the fact that it thrives in heat and drought has seen it spread right across the Iberian Peninsula. And, like many ancient varietals, it has mutated many times; in fact, there are over 500 known clones of Tempranilo and it goes under a host of different names. For instance, in Catalonia it is known as Ull de Llebre, South of Madrid as Valdepenas, in La Mancha, it’s Cencibel, in Ribera del Duero it is called Tinot Fino, while over in Portugal’s Douro, it masquerades as Tinta Roriz.
Tempranillo has only been planted here for about 20 years with two of the first producers being Victoria’s Brown Brothers and Yalumba in the Barossa. Their first vintages (around 1994) were encouraging enough to continue experimentation with newer clones also being trialled. Since then, Tempranillo has been planted in many regions across the country, all with relative success.
“I think Tempranillo is very well suited to our climate,” Natasha explains, “It ripens earlier in the season and therefore can often miss a lot of the really extenuated hot weather that we get towards the end of summer. The fruit flavours are ripe, balanced and pure at an earlier stage so that avoids excess sugar, and therefore alcohol, which is harder to avoid in other varieties.”
Both Nastasha and Peter make Tempranillo using fruit from the Adelaide Hills, with Peter putting the region’s suitability down to it being, “That much cooler, allowing natural acid retention (Temp is naturally a low acid grape), and the conditions guarantee a certain brightness and freshness, plus intriguing aromas of garrigue (think Mediterranean dried herbs) that add an extra note of interest.”
WHY IS TEMPRANILLO SO TEMPTING?
Tempranillo’s appeals are many, but Peter does a fine job of summing it up: “It’s what I call ‘Pinot Noir on steroids’: all the fragrance and perfume of Pinot, plus a bit more mid-palate flesh, colour and tannin. I love its beautiful cherry and raspberry fruit, and savoury finish without alcohol kick (it gets flavour at lower baumé than some other varieties, so is perfect for a savoury, mid-weighted, moderate alcohol style). And I quite like the fact that it’s so pretty in its youth, but develops complexity quite quickly in bottle.”
It is no surprise that tapas has taken off in Australia. After all, it really suits our lifestyle, being quick and easy, it offers lots of different tastes in one sitting and is very social. As plenty of Spaniards will testify, the perfect wine match for this type of cuisine is Tempranillo – its spicy, berry-fruit muskiness and mouth-filling tannins are ideally suited to a range of shared plates including chorizo, jamon, patatas bravas and gamey paella.
Natasha agrees, saying her favourite food match for Tempranillo is: “Easily a plate of tapas like prosciutto, olives, Manchego sheeps milk cheese and really good bread. It helps if you’re sitting in a cantina in Barcelona but a Spanish wine bar in Australia is a really good second best.”
But Peter has an Italian take: “Oddly, as it’s a Spanish grape, probably a classic Italian antipasti plate… all those diverse savoury flavours and textures.”
Recommended recipe: Miguel Maestre's chickpea and chorizo hotpot recipe