This week I attended a tasting of the wines of Toro, one of Spain's most exciting wine regions. While I have tasted plenty of Toro wines in my life, I was particularly impressed by their delicious juiciness, balance and sheer good value.
The Toro Wine Region
The Toro wine region is in North East Spain (Castilla Y Leon) and centers on the town of Toro in the province of Zamora. It is a rugged, remote area, with poor soils, perfect for cultivating vines. Winters are cold, with temperatures going down to as low as 14 degrees F and summers are dry and hot. But thanks to a strong Atlantic influence, the hot summer days are tempered, and offset by cool nights, which are important in managing the ripening process and slowing down rapid sugar accumulation.
While the region's wine regulations do allow for white wines, Toro is essentially a red wine region, and known for its full-bodied, robust wines. The key grape variety is Tinto del Toro, which is reputedly a clone of Tempranillo. However, it has adapted specifically to the Toro terroir over the past two hundred years such that it bears little resemblance to its cousins in over in Rioja or Ribera del Duero.
Tinto del Toro is characterized by its very small berry size, and its very thick skin. This makes for intense, deeply colored, full-bodied, tannic wines. Another important factor is that over 20% of all vines are more than 60 years old. Many are as old as 80 to 100 years, and having survived Phylloxera are gnarly bush vines on their own roots. While Tinto del Toro is the dominant variety, Garnacha is also widely planted and many wines are a blend of both.
Back to the wines and how they taste. One of the many things that appealed to me about the wines tasted was their bright fruit and how well alcohol levels were balanced. While most of the wines end up between 13.5% and 15% abv, I never felt the alcohol invasive on my palate. Instead I was wooed by juiciness and freshness in both the unoaked and oak aged wines.
Toro wines certainly don't lack fruit. The flavor palate spans a medley of ripe red, black and blue fruits with notes of coffee, tobacco and dried herbs. The oak-aged wines include flavors of sweet spices, vanilla and cedar. While packed with ripe fruit, these wines are not what I would describe as fruit forward. Instead they are well structured, with more of a back palate persistence and a very definite sense of place.
What is also very interesting about this region is the diversity of wine styles that are made from principally one grape variety — everything from youthful fresh unoaked wines to complex, layered, oak-aged wines for contemplation and cellaring.
Another attractive aspect of Toro wines is price. Less well known than some other Spanish wine regions these wines for the most part carry a less hefty price tag.
Toro Wines to Try
Some of my favorites that are available in the United States included:
• 2009 Bodegas Fariña Dama de Toro Tempranillo ($11) - A delicious juicy unoaked young wine with supple tannins that would be perfect with a burger or lamb kebab.
• 2008 Bodegas Fariña Dama de Toro barrel Aged Tempranillo ($13) – Creamy like a freshly made cappuccino, juicy black fruit and sweet spices, ripe tannins with a good grip – bring on a beef or wild boar stew.
• 2004 Bodegas Fariña Dama de Toro Crianza ($17) – Aged longer in oak, this wine exhibited juicy red plum fruit, leather, black olives and hints of camphor and exotic spices. Well integrated tannins.
• 2007 Bodega del Palacio de los Frontaura Y Victoria 'Dominio de Valdelacasa' ($17.50) – Delicious medley of ripe fleshy cherry and plum fruits, anise, vanilla, coconut and a strong earthy minerality. Nice tight structure with firm tannins.
• 2009 Bodegas Rejadorada Rosum, ($16) – Juicy, bright and brimming with ripe black and red fruits – peppery, earthy notes, supple tannins.
• 2009 Bodegas Rejadorada Tinto Roble ($20) – A real berry compote with black cherries and berries, sweet spice, hints of vanilla and more grip to the tannins.
• 2007 Bodegas Rejadorada Temple ($26) – Inviting earthy, savory aromas with lots of ripe red berry fruit. Strong minerality, taut palate with good tannic grip. Long layered savory finish.
• 2005 Bodegas Cyan – Cyan 12 Months ($15) – oozes ripe fruit – cherry liqueur, sweet spice and a savory herbal earthiness.
Until next week have fun discovering the wines of Toro.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Mary Gorman and www.dotoro.es)