Celebrating Tempranillo: Spain’s great grape in the Australian Pyrenees

Celebrating Tempranillo: Spain’s great grape in the Australian Pyrenees

Although it’s a relative newcomer to the Australian wine scene, Tempranillo is the third-most-planted grape in the world. As international varieties go, it’s a pretty big deal. At Mount Avoca we’ve been working with this delightful Spanish grape for a while now, and in light our recently released the latest vintage of our own organic Estate Tempranillo, we thought we’d seize this opportunity to explore the variety’s background, its stylistic evolution in Australia and why it makes such fantastic wines.

Tempranillo is undeniably Spain’s most famous variety and is best known for producing fine red wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero in the north of the country. However, like many other Mediterranean varieties, tempranillo has found a new home among Australia’s wine regions in recent decades. The grape first arrived in Australia just over twenty years ago – the first tempranillo was produced in 1994 – and has been making strides ever since. Today, it is among the most popular alternative red wine varieties in the country, with vines established from the Hunter Valley to Margaret River, not to mention the Pyrenees.

But what is the secret behind tempranillo’s success?

As a wine, tempranillo hits a sweet spot among Australia’s traditional varieties – somewhere between a pinot noir and a shiraz – producing ripe, generous wines without becoming heavy or overblown. There is also an intriguing complexity underlying that generous fruit – spice, dried herbs and earthy notes – that often emerges as the wines open up in the glass and speaks to tempranillo’s intrinsically high quality. It is also wonderfully versatile and well-suited to blending with other popular Australian varieties, such as grenache. And thanks to the variety’s generous tannins, savoury edge and tendency to ripen early, it produces well-balanced, food-friendly wines.

Another reason tempranillo does so well in Australia is its flexibility and ability to translate different terroirs into a range of wine styles. Originally from the water-parched, rugged terroirs of northern Spain, tempranillo is perfectly at home in Australia’s diverse and dry growing conditions. The variety has also shown that it is well suited to both warm and cool climates, with wines from warm regions tend to be powerful, dark-fruited and spicy wines, while cool climate tempranillos are more red-fruited, elegant and fresh.

In addition to terroir and climate, winemaking and maturation can significantly influence tempranillo’s final expression. In Australia, as in Spain, tempranillo typically falls within two stylistic categories: joven – young – wines, which see little or no oak, are classic early drinking wines, with juicy, bright fruits and silky tannins. And tempranillo aged in oak – crianza and reserva, which mean nurture and reserve respectively – which display denser, more rustic characters.

Where does Mount Avoca’s tempranillo fall on the stylistic spectrum?

Although Central Victoria doesn’t necessarily evoke the Spanish country, the Pyrenees shares some similarities with the great viticultural regions of northern Spain: it's surrounded by mountains, relatively elevated and enjoys a strong diurnal range during the ripening season. Given tempranillo has a reputation for losing acidity as it ripens, these conditions are perfect for the variety.

Made from 100% estate-grown and organic grapes, our newly released 2021 Estate Tempranillo is made in a youthful, easy-drinking joven style. The grapes are harvested and fermented in open vats, plunged three times daily throughout fermentation. The wine is clean and lively with flavours of freshly picked cherry, rose petals and vanilla bean that complement the soft tannins and bright acidity. It's perfect with cured ham, tapas or antipasti and a warm, summer’s afternoon, friends, conversation and maybe a little laughter.