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Tempranillo is an ancient grape that has been grown in Spain and Portugal since the Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean.  The fruit has thick black skins which can tolerate heat but prefer some cooler temperatures. The base of the name of Tempranillo, "temprano" means "early" in Spanish as it was known to ripen several weeks earlier than other grapes.  It is grown all over Spain but in highest concentrations in Rioja but is also found Navarra, Penedes and Ribera del Duero.  It was planted in California as Valdepeñas but didn't thrive until it was planted in higher elevations with cooler temperatures which allowed the fruit to reach its maximum flavor.  It is now found growing all over the west coast of the United States, Arizona and Texas.  Other places it has been successfully grown include Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Turkey, Thailand and Uruguay, 


Tempranillo is often found in blended wines but is becoming more common in single varietal bottles.  The flavors of these wines are often plummy with vanilla, leather and tobacco.  Traditionally Tempranillo was heavily oaked but new wine makers have started using lighter or more neutral oaks to allow the fruit flavors shine through..


When it comes to planning a menu around a bottle of Tempranillo, you have options galore as this wine matches with medium spicy Mexican fare, rich stews, roasted lamb, duck and fatty fish.  As an accompaniement with a cheese course, think of Manchego, sharp Cheddar and maybe some figs and aged chorizo.