Tempranillo is a Spanish red grape variety whose name alludes to its nature of ripening earlier than the other Vitis vinifera of Europe (temprano = early). Tempranillo has a very, very long history in the Iberian Peninsula, and is most likely as old as the discovery of wine itself.
In modern times, you can find the variety planted in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Turkey, and Israel in addition to its steadfast home in Spain. Anywhere there is a bed of chalky soil, there is a possible home for Tempranillo as it seems to grow best and prefers that soil type.
Tempranillo does have one major drawback as a variety. It isn’t that flavorful of its own accord. There are a few ways winemakers have come to deal with this issue (they’ve had since around 4000 BC to figure it out). One way is blending. Using a varietal like Grenache or Cabernet Sauvignon that carry more aromatics is commonplace in some regions of the world. The other way is extended oak barrel ageing. The barrels (French oak, American oak, or Hungarian oak) all have certain characteristic they impart into the wines, these are used to great effect with Tempranillo. The same juice from a press can be fermented for the same amount of time in the 3 different barrel types and have 3 totally different outcomes. Add in using new oak vs. second pass, third or neutral, and you begin to see how many barrel expressions can be imparted on Tempranillo.
It is also worth noting that many Tempranillo based wines are not labeled as ‘Tempranillo’ but can be up to 90% Tempranillo in the blend. By way of labeling in most of Europe, it will be labeled by region or sub appellation, hence the lack of varietal on the label.
In Portugal, the variety is a major player in making Port wine.
Fun Fact: It wasn’t all too long ago that people believed Tempranillo to be related to or a mutation of Pinot Noir, but recent DNA studies have disproved that belief. The two are not related in any way.
So go ahead and celebrate today, but make sure you know what to look for on the labels. Look for Ribera del Duero or Rioja on Spanish wine labels to experience this ancient grape in some of its most renowned expressions!