Tempranillo – perfect pairing with lamb and pork

An excerpt from Daring pairings by Evan Goldstein

January 25th, 2011


Tempranillo’s versatility at the table derives from its wide range of styles, from easy-drinking rioja to bruising toro; from the age classifications, which result in varying ranges of tannin; from the variety of flavor profiles (over time, its fruit becomes a more secondary than primary flavor); and from the grapes with which it has been blended.

Most tempranillo-based wines go with red meat, especially the lamb and pork that are so popular in Spain. I joked on a trip to Rioja that it seemed like we were eating lamb for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Tempranillo-based wines have a magical synergistic relationship with lamb, from a basic roast to a rare cut of leg to a slow-simmered stew. It goes well with an equally broad range of pork dishes, from chorizo and other dried, cured, and uncured sausages to jamón (dry ham, like prosciutto) and cochinillo, roast suckling pig. Pork pairs well with rioja, navarra, and other elegant styles of tempranillo, and lamb is marvelous with the bigger offerings from Toro and the Ribera del Duero. The baby roast lamb cooked in a wood-burning oven at the Casa Florencio in Aranda de Duero, the capital village of Ribera del Duero, with a good bottle of local wine is a memorable meal. Though beef isn’t consumed widely throughout Spain, it goes quite well with tempranillo based wines, as any Argentinean pairing demonstrates. Try it with a rib-eye, marinated with fresh herbs and garlic, on your grill at home.

Speaking of herbs, the inherent balsamico character of tempranillo makes a great bridge between the wine and herbal preparations. Using herbal marinades or sauces, tossing a few branches of rosemary onto your coals when grilling, and serving herb-roasted potatoes all make for a pleasurable experience. Mint, fennel, laurel, dill, and lemon verbena will reveal the corresponding notes in the wine. Tempranillo also has an exotic side that the right recipe can bring out. Savory curries, a veal chop served with a fresh tomato and mint salsa, or slow-cooked ribs with a glaze of balsamic vinegar and fennel all play to this side of the grape.

The more elegant versions of tempranillo are great with fowl, from a simple herb-roasted chicken to chorizo-stuffed quail or Cornish game hens served with a dried-fruit compote. The bigger bruisers can hold their own against rich pastas, venison, duck, and dishes featuring beans and lentils. 

Rioja rosado (rosé) is one of my house staples. Delightful on its own, it’s also enjoyable with tapas, dim sum, fish, lighter meat dishes, and shellfish. Plus it’s flexible with cheese, and I always finish with cheese!


Pairing Pointers

Tempranillo goes well with:

Tempranillo isn’t good:


The Cheese Plate

FRESH: Burrata, chèvre (many countries) – rosé
SEMI-SOFT: Saint-Nectaire (France), tetilla (Spain) – red, rosé
SOFT-RIPENED: Pierre Robert (France), robiola (Italy) – red, rosé
SEMI-HARD: Manchego (Spain), São Jorge (Portugal) – red
HARD: Dry or aged Jack (U.S.A.), aged Mahón (Spain) – red
BLUE: Cambozola (Germany), Castello (U.K.), Montbriac (France) – rosé


Reproduced with permission of University of California Press © Evan Goldstein 2010 

Read our full review of Daring Pairings here »

Daring Pairings by Evan Goldstein is published by University of California Press (Berkeley and LA; 2010; hb 353 pp) and retails for RRP US$34.95  or RRP A$55.95 in Australia.

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