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Carl Hudson
May 14, 2024 | Carl Hudson

Taste of Texas: Tempranillo Showdown

Taste of Texas: Tempranillo Showdown

A pairing event is scheduled in the Texas Wine Collective Event Center on Sunday, 19-May-2024, with sessions at 12:30 and 2:30 pm. Attendees will be able to compare and contrast Tempranillo wines grown and produced in Texas versus other key regions, including Spain and southern Oregon, Food bites to accompany the wines will be created by TWC operations manager Amber Saidler and prepared by the TWC Cork and Fork Food Truck staff.

Reservations and prepayment are required. Please join us and check the website to make your reservations: www.texaswinecollective.com.

Tempranillo pairing with a mini-Texas lunch: This pairing showcases a delightful combination of savory and sweet, perfectly complementing the bold flavors of all Tempranillos. BBQ Beef Sliders, Street Corn Salad, Deconstructed Triple Berry Crisp.

McPherson Cellars Tempranillo 2020 Texas High Plains AVA

Melior de Matarromera Tempranillo 2021 DO Ribera del Duero

Lost Oak Winery Tempranillo  2019 Texas High Plains AVA

Abacela Winery Tempranillo Fiesta 2021 Umpqua Valley AVA Oregon

Brennan Vineyards Tempranillo 2018 Texas

Marqués de Cáceres Reserva 2018 DOCa Rioja Spain



Tempranillo is the fourth most widely planted red wine grape in the world and is most famous for making fine red wines in the Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro regions of Spain. It is also one of the key grapes grown in the Douro region of Portugal and used in production of Port wines and, these days, many dry red table wines. It is believed that Phoenicians introduced wine grapes to Spain, so the Tempranillo that originated in Spain may well be related to ancient Phoenician species that originated in Lebanon in the Middle East.

Tempranillo offers a relatively mild flavor profile with red fruit characteristics (think cherry) and an earthy minerality often associated with classic European wines (think dusty, almost chalky at the finish). When grown well and ripened sufficiently, typical notes of leather, tobacco, dried cherry, strawberry, tomato, and sandy earth (think Texas road dust) are often found in Tempranillo bottlings.

Tempranillo is known by various names on the Iberian Peninsula: Tempranillo in Rioja; Tinto Fino in many areas; Cencibel in Valdepenas and La Mancha; Tinta de Toro in Toro; Tinta del Pais in Ribera del Duero; Ull de Llebre in Catalonia; Aragonez in Portugal’s central Alentejo region; and Tinta Roriz in the Douro Valley.

The region of Ribera del Duero is located in north central Spain through which the important Duero River runs westward into Portugal (where it becomes the Douro River, the area famous for Port wine production). The vineyard areas are mostly flat on an elevated plateau that ranges from 2,500-3,000 ft in elevation with silty, sandy soils over a limestone base (sounds a lot like the Texas High Plains, huh?). With its neighbor Rioja, located just to the northwest, Ribero del Duero shares a reputation for terrific Tempranillo wines.

McPherson Cellars Tempranillo 2020 Texas High Plains AVA

Kim McPherson and Spenser Igo produced this 100% Tempranillo with grapes from Lahey Vineyards near Brownfield in Terry County. The grapes went through a 3-day cold soak before a temperature-controlled 11-day fermentation in SS tank. After an overall 40-day maceration, the wine was racked into French oak barrels (23% new); and aged 14 months. Clinton “Doc” McPherson, Kim McPherson’s father, helped pioneer the Texas Wine Industry and made early plantings of Tempranillo on the Texas High Plains. This smooth, easy-drinking, well-balanced wine has aromas and flavors of ripe red cherry, notes of buttered toast and vanilla from oak aging, and a supple finish with soft dusty tannins.

Melior de Matarromera Tempranillo 2021 DO Ribera del Duero Spain

This 100% Tempranillo is sourced from selected vineyards. The grapes were hand harvested, destemmed, sorted, crushed, and fermented in SS tanks. After a short 4-month aging period in new oak barrels the wine was bottled at 14.5% ABV and aged an additional 12 months in bottle before release. This wine displays a bright cardinal-red color with purple hues and aromas of fresh-picked cherry and strawberry fruit. The palate offers ripe berry fruit with hints of baking spices along with soft tobacco, cocoa, and coffee. There is richness on the finish at 14.5% ABV accompanied by youthful, medium-rich tannins.



Tempranillo favors a climate that is hot and dry with a typically desert-like diurnal temperature shift of 25-40oF between the nighttime low and daytime high. Portions of these Iberian regions sit at relatively high elevations (1,500-3,000 ft above sea level) and in certain areas look a lot like places in Texas, especially the High Plains. Tempranillo is thriving in other parts of the wine world that have similar climates, with plantings in northern Arizona, the Yakima Valley AVA in Washington, McLaren Vale and North East Victoria districts in Australia, and elevated regions in Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.

Although Tempranillo is planted in many locations across the Lone Star State, it seems to do best on the Texas High Plains where sandy loam soils over a limestone base, high elevation to promote more productive photosynthesis, and significant diurnal temperature variations favor this variety. The cooling effect of dropping from daytime highs of 90-100oF down to nighttime lows of 50-60oF allows vines to take a break from their process of photosynthesis and “rest” during cooler nighttime temperatures. This helps the vines integrate natural sugars and flavor components in the grapes. Th resting period is commonly called “hangtime” which allows for greater physiological ripeness, preservation of more natural grape acidity, and enhancement of various flavor components.

Tempranillo was introduced in Oregon’s southern Umpqua Valley AVA over 25 years ago by Earl and Hilda Jones as they established Abacela Vineyards and Winery in 1995. The warm climate with sandy soils and optimal diurnal temperature ranges greatly favor Tempranillo.

Lost Oak Winery Tempranillo 2019 Texas High Plains AVA

Winemakers Jim Evans and Angela Chapman highlight the Texas High Plains terroir in this blend of 88% Tempranillo from Bingham Family Vineyards, Meadow, TX, and 12% Merlot from Diamante Doble Vineyards, Tokio, TX. The fruit was machine harvested, fermented in SS tanks, aged 15 months in American and French oak barrels (about 20% new), and bottled @ 13.4% ABV. The wine is dark berry in color with aromas of black cherry, black currant, and creamy vanilla spice. The flavors are decadently rich with cherry, chocolate, sweet tobacco, and mocha. Rich, yet ripe dusty tannins linger on the finish with notes of baked cherry pie and a hint of grill smoke.

Abacela Winery Tempranillo Fiesta 2021 Umpqua Valley AVA Oregon

The fruit for this 100% Tempranillo was machine harvested from the estate’s Fault Line Vineyard, destemmed, sorted, crushed, and fermented in SS tanks. The wine was aged 18 months in a mix of oak barrels (57% French, 43% American) of which 4% were new, 9% were 2 yr, 14% were 4 year, and 73% were older, neutral barrels, and 2,800 cases were bottled at 13.8% ABV. Bright garnet in color, the wine opens with aromas of red cherry and plum plus some floral notes. The texture of the wine is sleek and silky with flavors of black currant, blueberry, and notes of mocha and soft baking spices that lead to a lush finish with velvety tannins and hints of black tea and fresh tobacco. The wine was awarded 92 pts by Decanter Magazine and 91 pts by Northwest wine critic Paul Gregutt.





The Rioja region is perhaps the most famous in Spain and has been recognized with the highest category in Spanish wine classification, DOCa (or Denominacion di Origen Calificada). Rioja is subdivided into three zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental. Vineyard areas range in elevation from near 2,000 ft down to 1,000 ft along the valleys of the Ebro River system as it meanders eastward eventually flowing into the Mediterranean Sea in Catalonia.

Because of Tempranillo’s relatively mild flavor profile, it is often blended with other grapes to enhance flavor, color, and tannins: including Grenache, called Garnacha in Spain, Carignan, known as Mazuelo in Rioja, and Graciano. These varieties have been planted alongside Tempranillo in other regions of the world where climate conditions are favorable. Grenache and Carignan are especially popular in southern France and Graciano is now gaining in popularity in Texas, Arizona, and South America. And it should come as NO surprise that winemakers are developing blends of Tempranillo with more traditional grape varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.

The four grape varieties allowed to produce Rioja wines, either in single varietal or blended bottlings include: Tempranillo (88% of the vineyard plantings), Garnacha (8%), Mazuelo or Carignan (2%), and Graciano (2%). There are three key categories of wine styles defined primarily by their aging protocols:

Designation                 minimum in                                         minimum total

oak barrels           finished                  aging time

Crianza                        1 year                   in bottle                  2 years

Reserva                      1 year                   in bottle                  3 years

Gran Reserva             2 years                 in bottle                  5 years.


Marqués de Cáceres Reserva 2018 DOCa Rioja Spain       (mar-kess’)

This 90% Tempranillo is sourced from old vines and hand harvested at the peak of ripeness. It was fermented in SS tanks; blended with 10% other allowed varieties; and as required for a Reserva designation, aged 15 months in French oak barrels (1/3 new) and an additional 24 months in bottle before release. Bottled @ 14% ABV, this wine has aromas of blackberry and chocolate-covered orange peel. The flavors are rich and complex with black cherry, blackberry, baking spices, and notes of tobacco, black olives, and bittersweet chocolate. There is plenty of finesse on the palate with characteristic dusty, ripe tannins and a note of evergreen forest floor on the finish.

Marqués de Cáceres is a historic alliance of growers founded in 1970 by Enrique Forner with the goal of sourcing the very best fruit from top growers in Rioja and producing refined, representative wines for the region. Today there is a trend towards a more Bordeaux style of wine and the fifth generation led by Cristina Forner maintains the quality and traditions of Marqués de Cáceres.


Brennan Vineyards Tempranillo 2018 Texas

This Tempranillo was produced by former winemaker Todd Webster and has been aging gracefully in the cellar for several years. This is a delicious blend of 81% Tempranillo 2018 with portions of 2019 Super Nero and Winemaker’s Choice NV Vol. 7 added in for good measure. Such a blend connects with a focus on producing the best wine possible regardless of vintage or grape variety. The Tempranillo fruit was sourced 51% from Newburg Vineyard, Comanche County, and 49% from Lahey Vineyard, Terry County, Texas High Plains. The Newburg Tempranillo was harvested at 27oBrix (very ripe) and led to 15.3% ABV in the final wine. Fermentation at 70-80oF lasted 9 days with significant pump-over activity to improve extraction of color, flavor, and tannins from the grapes. After fermentation, the wine was racked to neutral French and American oak barrels and aged for a total of 32 months. Aromas of ripe cherry fruit with strong hints of toasty oak lead into flavors of black cherry, blackberry, black currant, and plum boosted by notes of pipe tobacco, seasoned leather, vine ripe tomato, and dark potting soil. The tannins are moderately soft and dusty, mellowed by the longer aging process into a smooth, lush finish.





The name Tempranillo is derived from the word “temprano”, meaning “early”. This early nature of the variety can cause some issues here in Texas. Tempranillo buds early in the springtime bringing danger of frost damage from early cold temperature events. There are many different clones of Tempranillo, and Texas grape growers continue to experiment to find the one(s) that works best in particular vineyard locations and growing conditions, especially clones that bud and bloom later to help prevent spring frost damage.

Tempranillo is also an early ripening grape, often ready to harvest before most other red varieties and alongside later maturing white varieties. When winemakers are focused on white wine harvests and production, seeing bins of red Tempranillo grapes arrive on the crush pad can cause some measure of frustration as shifts in techniques and equipment are needed to make red wines. However, Tempranillo produces delicious wines in Texas and winemakers most often shrug off the inconveniences involved.


Support Texas grape growers and winemakers by seeking out your favorite Tempranillos and enjoy a Taste of Texas with BBQ and grilled meats, rich cheeses, TexMex cuisine, and even sweets that contain cherry and/or chocolate ingredients.

Drink Well My Friends. 


Learn more from these references:

(1)  Spanish-Origin Grape Varieties in Texas Climates, by Carl Hudson, Ph.D., CSW, posted on Texas Wine Lover Website, 19-Feb-2021 (https://txwinelover.com/2021/02/spanish-origin-grape-varieties-in-texas-climates/)

(2)  Tempranillo, Wine Folly, by Madeline Puckette, James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year, co-founder of Wine Folly, https://winefolly.com/grapes/tempranillo/

(3)  Tempranillo, also known as Ull de Llebre, Cencibel, Tinto Fino, Tinta de Toro, and Tinta del Pais in Spain, and Aragonez or Tinta Roriz in Portugal, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/tempranillo# . . .

(4)  Tempranillo, A Guide to Basics, by Brian Freedman, 18-Nov-2022, https://www.foodandwine.com/tempranillo-wine-guide-6829997. This informative article mentions most favorably three Texas High Plains Tempranillo bottlings: Ron Yates Friesen Vineyards 2017, Pedernales Cellars 2019, and Bending Branch Newsom Vineyards 2017.

(5)  Tempranillo Grape Variety, Neighbors, and Blending Partners, by Carl Hudson, Ph.D., CSW,

28-Apr-2024, (under the blog-post section)


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