Spotlight on Tempranillo

Spotlight on Tempranillo

WEDNESDAY, AUG 10 2016
TOM SINTON

About Tempranillo
(pronounced “tem prah NEE yoh”)

Tempranillo is Spain’s most famous grape. Its name means “little ripening one” because they typically ripen several weeks before Spain’s other grape varieties.  The grapes are almost black in color and have bold flavors. They grow well at high altitudes and need a cooler climate to develop the elegance and acidity.

What IS the origin of Tempranillo?

Tempranillo was thought to be related to Pinot Noir and brought to Spain by Cistercian monks who were travelling on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. They have since discovered Tempranillo is not a relative of Pinot Noir and was brought to Southern Spain by the Phoenicians. Tempranillo is thought to have been grown for over 2000 years ago throughout the Ribera del Duero in Spain.

Where are the most popular regions for this varietal today?

Tempranillo is found in large quantities in the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions in Spain. In Portugal it grows in central the Alentejo and Douro regions and is often used in red blends. It needs warm weather to ripen but cool evenings. In the United States it was brought to California’s Central Valley in the 1900s and used primarily in jug wine. More recently it grows in Southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley and Washington’s Yakima Valley where the climate is ideal. It also grows in Australia, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.

What are the characteristics of Tempranillo?

Tempranillo is a full-bodied red wine, ruby in color. It is makes a vibrant, aromatic, spicy wine with flavors of cherry, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather, and herbs. It is often blended with other red wines like Grenache, Carignan, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon to produce a more elegant wine. Tempranillo is typically aged in American or New French Oak for 12-18 months.

Why did you choose to grow Tempranillo?

Our commitment to growing Tempranillo started when we tasted some excellent Tempranillo wines from the Foothills.  Aha, a great mountain grape we thought! That led us to compare of our Sierra Foothills vineyard in Placerville with of the Ribera del Duero region of Spain. We looked at elevation, distance from the ocean, and climate, and we found all of them remarkably similar. Both regions have high elevations, with warm – even hot – days and cool nights. With this good start, we looked for a spot in the vineyard where we could accentuate that daily temperature difference to increase complexity of the wine.   

We found the coolest spot in the vineyard at the south end, where we had two small blocks:  one facing north on a quartz hill, and one very steep and rocky block facing east. Because of north-eastern exposure and cold air drainage to the bottom of the canyon at night, these two blocks are usually ten degrees cooler in the evening. (Unfortunately, in the Spring that increases the risk of frost, so we have installed overhead sprinklers here to protect against that – and we’ve already used them!)  In these blocks we planted two different Tempranillo clones on a total of two acres.  Both are grafted to 420a rootstocks, which reduce the vigor of the vines to create balance. We think we’ve got a great spot, and are excitedly awaiting the results of our efforts!       

When will it be available?

Our first vintage of Tempranillo will be harvested in 2016 and be available in 2018. This first vintage we’ll age for 18 months in 50% new French oak barrels, with one new American and one new Russian barrel added to increase spiciness.    

Tips for Consuming Tempranillo

Tempranillo is gaining name recognition as a varietal. It is a versatile wine and pairs well with grilled meats, lasagna, pizza, Mexican food, grilled vegetables, charcuterie, cheese, and Spanish cuisine. Tempranillo from Spain has different levels of aging: Crianza (2 years, 6 months in oak); Reserva (3 years, 1 year in oak): and Gran Reserva (5 years, 18 months in oak).

About: Starfield Vineyards is a boutique winery located in Placerville, California. You can also connect with us on Facebook for more frequent updates, on Twitter, and our website. We will be opening to the public in 2018.


Starfield Vineyards is an artisanal producer of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot  from the cooler hillsides of Napa Valley and Bordeaux, France.  Inspired by the “star fields” that make extraordinary wines possible in these world-renowned regions, Starfield celebrates the truly great vineyard sites that allow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to develop the optimal balance of aroma, flavor and texture.  Father and son team, Tom and Rob Sinton, bring to Starfield four generations of winegrowing experience and an intense desire to reach beyond traditional boundaries to pursue the ultimate quality in cool climate winemaking. Buy our wine online and sign up for your allocation by joining our wine club, which assures your access to these limited production Bordeaux blends for home, special occasions or as gifts for wine connoisseurs.