Derived from "temprano," the Spanish word for "early," tempranillo is a reference to the grape's tendency to ripen early. It's a hearty, full-bodied variety that is especially well-suited to the Rioja region, though it has become widely planted across Spain and is gaining popularity in wine regions around the globe. Given Spain's warm climate, tempranillo's ability to achieve ripeness while still producing modest alcohol levels is a definite plus. Typically, the grape is blended with small portions of other varieties like garnacha and graciano to round out the flavors. That is the case with all three of our top picks.
2006 Beronia Rioja Reserva, $18.99
Dark cherry leads off on this wine's nose, followed by sweet vanilla, lightly toasted oak, herb and mint. Silky smooth in the mouth, this pick is filled with creamy, ripe, red fruit and impeccably balanced by lively acidity. Touches of spice, tart cherry, coffee and anise come through on the lengthy finish. Riojas that are labeled "reserva" spend at least one year in oak and two more in the bottle before being released.
2005 Marques de Caceres Rioja Reserva, $20
The aromas in this wine are a light, enticing mix of dark berry fruit backed by leather, earth, green olive, cedar and a touch of game. There's a rustic quality to the palate that offers a nice core of tart cherry and berry fruit. This wine opens up with time in the glass revealing dark chocolate, leather, ripe tannins and mineral. This is an elegantly complex rioja.
2009 Pomum Tinto Tempranillo, $24
This wine is a New World interpretation of the grape, grown in Washington by a Spanish expat. The nose is rich and fruity with layers of dark fruit colored by pipe tobacco, game and soft oak. The wine's flavors are intense and the texture velvety. Ripe cherry flavors play against the wine's food-friendly, bright acidity. Touches of chocolate and licorice persist on the finish.