Tempranillo food pairing

Published April 14th, 2022 - Updated March 25th, 2023

Tempranillo is a high quality red grape variety grown throughout Spain, with the exception of the south. Its preferred habitats are Rioja and Navarra, where it makes up about 70% of most red wines.

Tempranillo food pairing.

Depending on the area, it is known by several local names: Tinta del País or Tinto Fino in and around Ribera del Duero, Tinta de Toro in Toro, Ull de llebre in Catalonia and Cencibel in La Mancha and Valdepenas.

In Portugal, where it is called Tinta Roriz in the Douro and Aragonês in the Alentejo wine region, it is used both for the production of red dry wines and in the Port blend.

It is also widely cultivated in the New World, especially in California, Argentina, and Australia.

Tempranillo wine taste shows little sweetness and medium acidity and, for this reason, the grape is often blended with Garnacha and Syrah, which can also increase its fruity character. Recently, however, some producers are vinifying it in purity with interesting results.

In the following paragraphs we will have a look at the main characteristics of this extraordinary grape variety and we will explain to you how to create the perfect Tempranillo wine food pairing.

Tempranillo food pairing: the basics

When it comes to food pairing with Tempranillo, things can vary slightly depending on the wine style and the dish preparation.

In general, Tempranillo-based wines are warm, intense, and structured and usually characterized by a strong tannic base and medium acidity. These characteristics make Tempranillo ideal as an aging wine and a perfect partner in combination with medium-rich dishes.

Younger wines tend to exhibit a higher fruity character and intensity, as they usually receive little or no contact with wood. They have lower tannins and a nice freshness and are more suitable for less elaborate dishes, such as vegetarian preparations, tapas, and appetizers.

Their fruity liveliness will match deliciously any recipes including red peppers (like fried Padron peppers), vegetarian tagines and lasagna, or mild vegetarian curries, as well as a wide variety of tapas including the famous Patatas Bravas.

More aged ones like the Rioja Reserva need some extra structure to balance their personality and boldness.

These wines have the complexity and tannic backbone to withstand the intensity of flavors of dishes such as chili con carne, roast lamb and game birds, as well as all the traditional Spanish charcuterie, including Chorizo and Jamon Serrano.

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What to know when buying a bottle of Spanish Tempranillo

Spanish tempranillo can come from all over the country, but the best examples are produced in Rioja, where the wine can be labeled according to the aging time.

Vin Joven

In general, Rioja Vin Joven is a wine of the current vintage that should be consumed between one year and 18 months after production. Vin Joven is usually a fairly fresh and fruity wine. It is the entry level and the cheapest option among Rioja wines.


Rioja wines with the Crianza denomination undergo a specific aging process which must last at least 2 years. In the first phase, the wine is placed in oak barrels for a minimum period of one year. This is followed by a period of refinement in the bottle for at least 6 months. Among the Rioja wines, the Crianza ones offer the best value for money. They are full-bodied but not overly rich, a bit like a fine Chianti or a good Cabernet Sauvignon.


A Rioja Reserva wine must age for at least three years, and one of them must be in oak barrels. These are rich and elegant wines with a certain complexity, where the vanilla and leather flavors, coming from aging in wood, seem to harmonize perfectly with the fruity notes and structure of the Tempranillo.

Gran Reserva

The Gran Reserva wines are on the top of the Rioja quality scale. These are wines that are aged for at least five years, with a minimum of two years in oak barrels, and are generally produced only in exceptional vintages. They are therefore characterized by extraordinary concentration and complexity.

What does Tempranillo taste like?

Tempranillo red wine tends to have a spicy, herbaceous, and earthy character with notes of tobacco, ripe strawberries and red cherry fruits. This grape gives a lush texture and intense color to its wines which are quite full-bodied and tannic but with moderate acidity.

Like Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, it shows excellent aging potential, and takes on a refined character when aged in oak, producing rich and elegant wines.

How to serve Tempranillo wine?

It is recommended to serve Tempranillo wines around 60°F/15°C to fully enhance its aromas and flavors.

Depending on the age of the wine, decanting is advisable. Young wines can be just opened half an hour before serving, while older wines should probably rest and oxygenate in the decanter for a period that can vary from 30 minutes to an hour and a half.

It is always better to use large red wine glasses for Tempranillo in order to favor oxygenation and enhance its aromatic complexity.

Appetizers to pair with Tempranillo

A classic Tempranillo food match is with tapas and appetizers, which are perfect for all those fruity Vin Joven or those American or Australian Tempranillo that are fresh and straightforward. Fish tapas, vegetarian pastries, or fish empanadas with tomato sauce would work perfectly with the medium body of these wines.

Our suggestion: Oliver's Taranga Vineyards Tempranillo

Pair Tempranillo with meat.

Pair Tempranillo with meat

Grilled pork and cured meats like Iberian ham or chorizo will find their best ally in medium-aged Tempranillo wines such as Rioja Crianza, which have the right structure to balance these dishes without overpowering them and have the right softness of tannins to gently cleanse the palate. Excellent Tempranillo food pairings with medium-aged wines also include pizza, pasta, and lightly spiced dishes like some Mexican and Indian preparations.

Our suggestion: Bodegas Muriel Crianza

The most mature wines like Reserva and Gran Reserva Rioja that have more complexity and texture will combine better with more robust dishes, such as roast lamb, beef cutlets, and grilled smoked meats. The wonderful earthy and spicy character, will also work very well with red meat stews.

Our suggeston: Bodegas Baigorri Rioja Reserva

Tempranillo cheese pairing

The tannic structure and aromatic intensity of Tempranillo can create the most perfect balance with medium-high salt-content cheeses such as the classic Manchego, some medium-aged goat cheeses, Parmesan, and fresh Pecorino. A Rioja Crianza or a Reserva will be the best options.

Our suggestion: Luberri Biga Rioja Crianza

Tempranillo and Mexican Food.

Tempranillo and Mexican Food

Tempranillo pairing with Mexican cuisine is a great hit, especially in the case of recipes that are not too hot such as pork tacos, cheesy nachos, beef burritos, chile Rellenos, and frijoles with herbs.

If the excessive spiciness of some foods can highlight some angular characteristics of the wine, those recipes with a medium spicy charge will find a perfect ally and partner in the acid vein and warmth of an elegant Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero.

Our suggestion: Ribera del Duero Tempranillo Crianza DO “Finca Vallejo”, Bela, CVNE

Tempranillo with Italian Food.

Tempranillo with Italian Food

Tempranillo is one of those red wines that have the perfect degree of acidity and aromatic intensity to pair harmoniously with tomato-based dishes. And since the tomato is the king of Italian cuisine, obviously Tempranillo-based wines are ideal companions for many Italian recipes. Younger, fresher wines work great with pizza and spicy pasta recipes like Arrabbiata, while wines with more texture are delicious with succulent dishes like lasagna or pasta al ragù.

If you are having Lasagna Bolognese you may want to try an Australian Tempranillo, with intense fruitiness and a generous structure.

Our suggestion: Oliver's Taranga Vineyards Tempranillo

Tempranillo with grilled salmon

We all know the basic rule of pairing fish with white wine, but we've also learned by now that all rules have their exceptions. Here, with due care, Tempranillo is one of the exceptions with fish. This wine goes very well with rich fish and tomato-based soups such as Tuscan Caciucco or with those fishes, such as salmon, which have considerable fatness and a much more structured texture.

Tempranillo has an acidity that will cleanse the palate of the fatness of the salmon without overpowering it. For this Tempranillo wine pairing, it’s better to choose a young wine, or one where the wood influence is not too evident.

Our suggestion: Abacela Fiesta Tempranillo


Known as the most representative Spanish grapevariety, Tempranillo produces wines of the highest quality both in its homeland and around the world. Thanks to its ductility, the peculiar characteristics that make it easily recognizable, and its impressive aging capacity, Tempranillo is a wine that adapts to many combinations with food.

So don't stop at the classic Tempanillo food pairing with Jamon Serrano or lamb, but follow our suggestions, experiment and enjoy!

Photo credits: Harry Lawford