Tempranillo is to Spain what shiraz is to Australia – the country’s most popular red wine that has won hearts around the world.

When it comes to tempranillo, the region that’s as famous as the grape is Rioja, which carries Spain’s country’s highest designation of origin for its quality wines.

The Australian Wine Club shines a light on Spanish wines this week, presenting three classy Rioja tempranillo and an old-vine grenache from the region of Calatayud.

A good tempranillo delivers juicy flavours of ripe raspberries and cherries, as well as spicy characters and oak-derived notes. Tempranillo tends to be used to create medium-bodied wines, a little like cool-climate shiraz.

One of my favourite wines in our collection today, the Altos R Pigeage 2018, is made by Jean Marc Sauboua, a well-known winemaker from Bordeaux who has brought French winemaking techniques to Spain.

“My father is French but my mother is Spanish and I always wanted to try to do something with tempranillo,” he says.

From 2006, Sauboua has been making cool-climate Rioja tempranillo from grapes grown in vineyards around 700m above sea level and maturing these wines in high-quality French oak, rather than the American oak traditionally favoured by most Spanish winemakers.

He also has imported a technique from Burgundy called pigeage, a process where the winemaker punches down the layer of skins, stems and seeds that forms at the surface of the fermenting wine. By punching down this layer several times a day in the early stages of the ferment, deeper flavours can be extracted from the wine.

Sauboua has had great success with his flagship pigeage cuvee, winning more than 100 gold medals, including nine for the 2018 vintage and racking up 90-plus scores from some of the world’s toughest wine critics.

rioja tempranillo
Picture: Getty Images

Altos R Pigeage 2018

Lifted aromas of dark cherries and blackberries, with notes of blackberry pie, baking spices, vanilla and dried rosemary. Lush fruit-driven palate, with a spray of cherry cola and sarsaparilla, riding on fine tannins. Respected international wine writer James Suckling gave the wine 94 points, describing it as “full-bodied with firm, chalky tannins, fresh acidity and a creamy, velvety texture. Flavourful, rich”. It’s super enjoyable. 14.5 per cent alc; RRP $58 a bottle.

SPECIALS $47.99 a bottle in any dozen; $34.99 in Spanish dozen.

Finca La Selva Gran Reserva 2015

The winery behind this gran reserva tempranillo, Bodegas La Emperatriz, has been regarded as one Rioja’s finest estates going back 150 years when it belonged to Empress Eugenie of France. With more than 100ha of vineyards sitting at high altitude in the Rioja Alta, the estate ripens grapes slowly, producing wines with structure and depth of flavour. Eight years into its life, the 2015 opens with aromas of red fruits, vanilla, mocha and coconut, leading to a complex palate where plums and cherries fuse together with savoury characters of tobacco, leather and spice. Gran reserva wines must be aged for 24 months in barrel and 36 months in bottle. Superbly integrated and drinking beautifully now – although the maker says the wine will reach perfection by around 2030. Ninety-three points from Wine Enthusiast; won gold at the Mundus Vini international wine competition. Decant well. 14 per cent alc; RRP $45 a bottle.

SPECIALS $29.99 a bottle in any dozen; $34.99 in Spanish dozen.

Castillo Labastida Reserva 2016

From the Basque medieval village of Labastida in Rioja Alavesa comes a juicy tempranillo with richness and depth. Most vineyards around Labastida have been in the same families for generations. You’ll be welcomed with cherries and blackberries on the nose, with hints of raspberry, vanilla and chocolate powder. Red fruit flavours run through the medium-bodied palate, with toasted oak and mocha notes carried by soft tannins to a long finish. Aged in nearly all French oak for 18 months. (Reserva wines must be aged at least three years, with at least one in barrel.) Ninety-one points from James Suckling and gold at Mundus Vini. 14 per cent alc; RRP $50 a bottle.

SPECIALS $37.99 a bottle in any dozen; $34.99 in Spanish dozen.

Sierra de los Suenos 2020

A grenache crafted by one of only four masters of wine working in Spain, Norrel Robertson. Robertson’s focus is to make grenache from old vineyards (50 to 115 years old) in the Calatayud region, northeast of Madrid, and around 1000m above sea level. Aromas of strawberries, cherries and raspberries mingle with vanilla, spice, earthiness, tobacco and herbs. Rustic savoury flavours, with a touch of cherry, flow through the palate. Crunchy-fresh acidity and dusty tannins make this wine a good companion for a paella. Needs to be decanted for several hours. Will develop further with cellaring for at least five years. 14.5 per cent alc; RRP $55 a bottle.

SPECIALS $42.99 a bottle in any dozen; $34.99 a bottle in Spanish dozen. SAVE $204 a dozen

SPANISH DOZEN Three bottles of each wine above for $34.99 a bottle.

Order by simply clicking the links to our online store or telephone 1300 765 359 Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm AEST. Deals are available only while stocks last. The Australian Wine Club is a commercial partnership with Laithwaites Wine, LIQP770016550. Stockhead is partnering with The Australian Wine Club on this offer.