The Temptation of Tempranillo

Tempranillo can be a bit of an enigma. When searching for it in a wine shop, you may find it labeled under many different names, due to it being the fifth-most-planted grape variety in the world. While it’s best known for its home in Central Spain, Rioja, you might also see it listed as Cencibel, Tinta del Toro, Tinta del Pais, Ull de Llebre or, in Portugal, as Tinta Roriz.

But it is tempranillo’s chameleon-like qualities in the winery that truly make it a diverse wine. When young and aged briefly in oak, the medium-bodied tempranillo bursts with red cherry and blackberry flavors with hints of dill, perfect for a backyard barbecue. But let the wine age in oak barrels for a few years, and tempranillo takes on a velvety, fuller-bodied quality with notes of deep baked berries and fig and undertones of leather and tobacco.

Tempranillo’s affordable price tag and food-friendly style make it a good bet for Texas wine lovers. The wines have enough character to balance our beloved cured and smoked meats, and enough fruit to hold their own with barbecue sauces and salsas. Tempranillo and taco Tuesday are a sure bet. With that food pairing profile, it’s no surprise that Texas winemakers have embraced the grape.

Jason Centanni, winemaker at Llano Estacado in the Texas High Plains, loves the versatility of tempranillo. “Depending on the clone and the root stock, you get a different expression of the grape in each vineyard,” he says. “It makes it special. As a winemaker, you get to hone in on that varietal and let the grape tell the story.”

Llano Estacado has been highly praised, receiving the Gold Judges’ Selection Nomination for a Top Texas Red at the 2019 TEXSOM International Wine Awards for their THP tempranillo blend. “We call it THP for ‘Texas Hocus Pocus’ because the result is the magic of blending tempranillo from three different vineyards and adding 10 percent tannat for a little bit of backbone and support,” says Centanni. “We’re proud of how it turned out.”

Growing tempranillo in Texas isn’t without its challenges. The vine can be so productive that you have to manage it to ensure the grapes get enough nutrients and it matures early. If you leave the grapes hanging on the vine too long, you end up with a wine that might be higher in alcohol content than desired.

Clearly, plenty of Texas winemakers think the grape is worth the effort. Award-winning tempranillos grace the shelves of dozens of wineries, with more medals arriving daily, begging the argument that tempranillo might be fast becoming the darling of Lone Star producers.

“If you see a Texas tempranillo, give it a shot,” urges Centanni. “It's a bottle that is going to outshine other varietals.”

Where to Find Texas Tempranillo

Ab Astris 2015 Tempranillo
Becker Vineyards 2017 Tempranillo Reserve
Bending Branch Winery 2014 & 2015 Tempranillo
Newsom Vineyards
Bingham Family Vineyards 2015 Reserve Tempranillo,
2016 Dirt Farmer Red Blend,
2017 Turnrow Red Blend
Brennan Vineyards 2016 Tempranillo
Calais Winery 2016 Cuvée du Manor
Christoval Vineyards 2015 Tempranillo
Fall Creek Vineyards 2016 ExTerra Tempranillo
Salt Lick Vineyards,
2017 Fall Creek Vineyard
Tempranillo, Salt Lick Vineyards
Terrior Reflection
Flat Creek Estate 2015 Reserve Tempranillo
Haak Vineyards 2017 Tempranillo
Hilmy Cellars 2016 The Temp, 2017 Rosé
Hye Meadow Winery 2015 Tempranillo
Lewis Wines 2015 Texas Tempranillo
Llano Estocado 2014 THP Tempranillo
Lost Draw Cellars 2016 Tempranillo
Lost Oak Winery 2017 Tempranillo
Messina Hof 2017 Paulo Tempranillo,
2017 Private Reserve Tempranillo
Newsom Vineyards 2015 Tempranillo
Pedernales Cellars 2016 Texas Tempranillo Reserve,
2016 Texas High Plains Tempranillo,
2016 Texas Hill Country Tempranillo,
2016 Bingham Vineyards Reserve,
2016 Kuhlken Vineyards Reserve Blend,
2016 Family Reserve Blend
Perissos Vineyard & Winery 2015 Tamara, 2015 & 2016 Tempranillo,
2016 & 2017 Racker's Blend
Pontotoc Vineyard 2016 San Fernando Academy Blend,
2016 Smoothing Iron Mountain Blend
Rancho Loma Vineyards 2017 Toro Tempranillo,
2016 The Tempest Reserve Red Blend,
2017 RLV Valera Blend
Salt Lick Cellars Tempranillo
Spicewood Vineyards 2016 Tempranillo,
2014 The Good Guy Blend
Stoneledge Winery 2017 Tempranillo
Wedding Oak Winery 2015 & 2016 Tempranillo Reserva

By Kristi Willis • Photography by Jenna Northcutt