Tempranillo derives from the Spanish word temprano, or ‘early’, due to its grapes budding and ripening early. Although the grape has moderately thick skin, the extensive aging required in Rioja, Spain (where tempranillo is famous), produces a lighter-bodied red wine. Here are some of our favorite staff picks, which will pair nicely with the season’s winter cuisine.
CVNE (Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana) Imperial Gran Reserva 1994 (Rioja, Spain) $75.99
The amazing thing about a 20 year old wine is when it tastes like it still has over 20 years left to go. The CVNE Gran Reserva tempranillo was just that. Sinewy tannins, bold leather flavors; it was simply delicious. The best tempranillo I’ve tasted in years. Find it here.
BODEGAS LAMBUENA Crianza 2010 (Ribera Del Duero, Spain) $20
While Rioja it typically the first thing that come to mind with tempranillo, I chose one from the Ribera del Duero, to the southwest. I found gamey notes on the nose followed by lush blackberry, blueberry, and white pepper. Healthy tannins rounded out the finish. This is a food wine and would pair nicely with game or steak. Find it here.
BODEGAS MUGA "Selección Especial" Reserva 2009 (Rioja, Spain) $35
My family drank copious amounts of Muga Rioja in celebration of my brother’s wedding. My now-husband brought me a bottle of Muga Rioja (along with chocolate-dipped strawberries and – gentlemen, take note – TOYS FOR MY DOGS) on our first date. So, while Muga is pretty much a household name when it comes to Spanish wines and, in particular, Rioja, it holds an incredibly special place in my heart. The Selección Especial, made from 70 percent tempranillo, among a host of other Spanish varietals, and aged for 28 months in small oak barrels, is particularly swoon-worthy, boasting dark, cooked berry fruit, black licorice, spice and a hint of earthy funk. Pair this with a hunk of aged Spanish cheese or a life-changing moment. Find it here.
LOPEZ DE HEREDIA “Viña Tondonia” Reserva 2001 (Rioja Alta, Spain) $25
Rioja is one of the most undervalued and underappreciated wine regions. You get the best bang for your buck with the quality to price ratio. The wines are released when they’re ready to drink, so patience is not required. For example, the Reserva Tinto is aged a minimum of three years, including 1 year in oak. Rioja has two styles of wine producers; traditional and contemporary. Contemporary producers blend grapes from all three subregions within Rioja. Lopez de Heredia is considered to be a staunch traditionalist, producing wines from single estate vineyards such as Bosconia and Tondonia. The wine is elegant, well-balanced, earth-driven and lighter than most tempranillo’s. Find it here.
LA RIOJA ALTA, S.A. “Viña Arana Reserva” 2005 (Rioja, Spain) $26
Soft, smooth, yet powerful and bursting with red fruit. Much more complex and impressive than most $26 Spanish wines, with a long finish that will make you smile. Find it here.