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Rioja vs Tempranillo

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Similarities of Rioja & Tempranillo

Rioja and Tempranillo are two names that are readily associated with Spain. Tempranillo is a red grape varietal, while Rioja is the name of a famous wine and wine region. Rioja is considered to be one of the best bold red wines in the world, up with Barolo, Bordeaux and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

When we talk about Rioja and Tempranillo, we are essentially talking about the same grape, because Rioja wines are usually made primarily from Tempranillo with some splashes of Garnacha tinta, Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana tinta. Pretty much all Rioja’s are Tempranillo-based, while not all Tempranillo wines can be called Rioja. Additionally, the region of Rioja has some special practices and environmental factors that set it apart from other Tempranillo-based wines, which we will go over in this article. 

Whether you’re drinking Tempranillo or wine from Rioja, there are also plenty of characteristics that you can find in both. Both wines are usually dry,  full-bodied and feature bold flavours of red and black fruits, and a smokey earthiness. Wines made from 100% Tempranillo are relatively rare – due to the grape’s natural low acidity, it is often blended with small portions of highly acidic grapes, such as Garnacha or Mazuela (Carignan).

Differences of Rioja Versus Tempranillo

Rioja is, without a doubt, the most famous Tempranillo growing region in the world. However, the grape isn’t limited to the Rioja region or even Spain. It can also be found growing in the Ribera del Duero, Valdepeñas and Navarra regions, as well as the Douro in Portugal and parts of the Americas. 

A notable difference between Rioja wines and Tempranillo wines is the classification systems within Rioja and methods of production. Rioja has some relatively strict rules about how red wine should be made. If you see a bottle from Rioja labeled “Crianza”, it means the wine has spent a minimum of 2 years aging, with at least 12 months in an oak barrel. If it is labeled “Reserva” it means that the wine has been aged for 3 years (with the same minimum amount of barrel time). Finally, “Gran Reserva” Rioja wines have spent at least 2 years in an oak barrel and 3 years aging in the bottle. 

Outside of Rioja, Tempranillo wines are usually not submitted to such rigorous aging rules. As the grape is grown all over the world, the regulations it is produced under totally depend on the individual appellations. 

How To Distinguish Between Rioja & Tempranillo

One surefire way to distinguish between Rioja and a wider Tempranillo wine is to look for the effects of barrel aging. The aging process in Rioja essentially adds complexity and a bigger price tag than most of the other Tempranillo wines that you will find on the market. It also adds a distinctive note of vanilla, and in many cases, leathery undertones. 

When it comes to coloring, Tempranillo is generally a medium red sort of wine, with purple hues. If you’re shopping for Rioja, however, you may notice that some of the “Reserva” or “Gran Reserva” wines are slightly more on the brown end of the scale due to aging. 

Rioja vs Tempranillo Comparison Chart

Characteristic Rioja Tempranillo
Sweetness Dry Dry
Acidity Medium – High Medium – High
Tannins Medium – High Medium
Body Medium – Full Medium – Full
Tasting Notes Red and black fruits – fleshy fruit notes with flavours of spice, pepper, dill, smoke, vanilla and leather.  Red and black fruits – fleshy fruit notes with flavours of spice/pepper, dill and smoke.
Popularity 18,100 Monthly Searches 18,100 Monthly Searches
Calories Per Glass 113 calories 113 calories
ABV % 13.5 – 15% 13 – 14.5%

Pairing Food With Rioja & Tempranillo

Rioja and other Tempranillo wines can have great depth in their spicy, peppery and earthy undertones, so they are beautiful wines to pair with food. Both are natural pairings for red meat, particularly meats with some spices and flavourings, like chorizo. They can also be great company for a variety of tapas, as you can put more emphasis on the wine than the food. Click on the link below to read some more about what to pair with Tempranillo wines.

Rioja food pairing link

Tempranillo food pairing