Think Tempranillo, think Rioja, think Spain - oh, and perhaps Australia. The La Rioja region of northern Spain has been producing this tremendous wine since the 11th century, mainly from the early-ripening, black-hued Tempranillo grape.
The wine is aged in French or American oak, adding a layer of vanilla to those characteristic dark fruit and cherry flavours.
In recent years, Tempranillo vines and Rioja expertise have made their way to Australia, producing superb quality wines that are contnuing to impress. So, with the nights darkening and the temperature dropping what better way to banish the winter blues than with a glass of this warming and life-affirming wine.
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1. La La Land Tempranillo 2015, 13.5%: £9.99, Majestic
Many of us have felt we’ve been living here this year, so it’s nice to find an Australian Tempranillo to suit. From a winery in north-west Victoria this deep-red wine brings layered flavours of dark fruits, black cherries and blueberries and then throws coffee and licorice into the mix as well. A party-pleaser that goes well with tacos, chorizo and spicy chicken wings.
2. Hacienda López de Haro Rioja Tempranillo 2015, 13.5%: £8.99, Cambridge Wine
Manually harvested from a vineyard in the small town of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, this is a traditional Rioja aged for three or four months in oak barrels before spending six months in the bottle. Lovely rich fruit flavours with smooth tannins and an elegant finish. Good with cold meats or cheese.
3. Sons of Eden Selene Tempranillo 2012, 14.5%: £25.49, Ex Cellar
The inaugural vintage for this Australian Barossa Valley Tempranillo from the Sons of Eden, otherwise known as winemaker Corey Ryan (who’s been travelling to Spain each year since 2009 to gain experience in Rioja) and viticulturist Simon Cowham. An intense, dark red wine loaded with deep plum and black cherry flavours complemented by velvet tannins and hints of spice and herbs.
4. Bodegas Pascual Buró Ribera del Duero 2012, 14%: £14.95, Swig
Lots of big flavours here, coming from the Ribera del Duero region where wine-making goes back to the 14th century. Not that there’s anything ancient about the intense, dark fruit and cherry tastes here, balanced by notes of caramel and spice. It should make for one happy hacienda.
5. Angelicus Tempranillo 2014, 13.5%: £20.49, Vagabond Wines
From a rocky vineyard in the Geographe wine area of Western Australia comes this 99 per cent Tempranillo, one per cent Grenache, wine produced from five clones of Tempranillo brought to Australia from Ribera del Duero and Rioja. Huge flavours of plums, mulberries and dark fruit allied to smooth tannins with overtones of chocolate and spices.
6. Matsu El Picaro 2015 Toro, 14.5%: £8.99, Majestic
Picaro means “rascal” and we presume the handsome rogue on the label is there to attract passing buyers. This is a young wine that spends just three months in oak to preserve its natural raspberry and blueberry fruitiness. You’ll also find textured tannins and a crisp minerality here. Goes well with skewers of grilled meat or pasta dishes.
7. The Hedonist Tempranillo 2012, 14%: £13.50, Wine Direct
From veteran Australian winemaker Walter Clappis and his certified biodynamic vineyard in the the Willunga foothills of McLaren Vale, South Australia, comes this small batch, beautifully balanced Tempranillo with flavours of chocolate, cherry and black plum and silky tannins. Good to enjoy now.
8. Marqués de Zearra Rioja 2009, 14%: £10.20, Yapp
From a small bodega in Fuenmajor, slap bang in the middle of the La Rioja region, come this reasonably priced but extremely tasty Rioja that spends 24 months in oak barrels and three years in the bottle before being released. Big, robust dark fruit and caramel flavours with spice and coffee aromas.
9. Landaire Tempranillo 2014, 14%: £24.99, Hanging Ditch
A single vineyard, estate grown Tempranillo from the Limestone Coast of South Australia which was bottled early to retain the wine’s bright and fresh character. Mild red in colour it’s packed full of blackberry and dark fruit flavours with suggestions of spice, licorice and herbs.
10. Vina Palaciega Rioja 2014, 13%: £8.25, Carookes
A medium-bodied Rioja (85 per cent Tempranillo, 15 per cent Grenache) with a deep ruby colour that’s matured for six months in American oak barrels. It has ripe red and black fruit flavours with hints of spice and pepper. Good to enjoy with cheese, pasta dishes or, of course, tapas.
11. Beronia Reserva Rioja 2011, 14%: £12, Waitrose Cellar
A product of the best grapes from the oldest vineyards, this Spanish Rioja is aged for 20 months in barrels made from French and American oak which gives this intense ruby red wine notes of coconut, vanilla and spices allied to strawberry and dark cherry flavours and velvet-like tannins. The perfect accompaniment for roast lamb.
12. Ess & See Tempranillo 2013, 14.5%: £15.99, Virgin Wines
A South Australian wine from wine-maker Steve Grimley’s modest vineyard east of Adelaide where the grapes ripen early producing a small batch (1,780 bottles) of a superbly textured Tempranillo which has the usual dark fruit flavours you would expert but with a savoury twist. Enjoy it now with roast lamb or it can keep for two or three years.
13. Bienbebido Queso Tempranillo 2013, 14%: £7.99, Majestic
You have to love the funky, painted-on decoration on this Spanish Tempranillo created by a group of winemakers, sommeliers, chefs and wine enthusiasts who wanted to create a range of perfect “go-to wines” to accompany certain foods. And this one, as the decorations show, shouts “cheese”, preferably a ripe Manchego. An easy-drinking wine with lots of berry flavours and spicy notes.
14. Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva 2011, 13.5%: £8, Tesco
A familiar sight in UK stores this popular Rioja offers great value for under £10. There are all the usual great fruity flavours you would expect from a top-class Rioja with hints, too, of cinnamon and tobacco leaves. Just the thing to accompany a nicely roasted shoulder of lamb on a dark night.
The Verdict: Tempranillo
There's a lot of decent Rioja to be had at very reasonable prices, including the medium-bodied Vina Palaciega, the Beronia Reserve and the ever dependable Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva. For the more adventurous there are some excellent Australian small batch Tempranillos just coming on to the market such as The Hedonist, The Angelicus and Sons of Eden. Best Buy is the enterprising and satisfying La La Land Tempranillo from Majestic at just under £10.
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