For lovers of Spanish reds, the great wines of Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat and Jumilla are the classic standouts. However, many have yet to discover the relatively new Denominacion de Origen of Toro in the province of Zamora in northwestern Spain.
The region lies in the western end of Castilla y Leon along the Douro River (Ribera del Duero) and was officially given DO status in 1987. Toro lies west and slightly south of the infamous Rioja region and due west of the Ribera del Duero. The climate in Toro is extreme and is a short growing season due to its summer heat. This area of Castilla y Leon is relatively devoid of agriculture and people alike. It is hot and dry in summer months and very cold in winter, with temperatures falling into the teens. The area receives virtually all its moisture in winter, with an average of 15-19 inches per year.
Toro is predominantly red wine country. While there is white wine and rose, the renowned wines are hearty reds. The grape responsible for these powerful reds is Tinto de Toro, a variant of the famed tempranillo, which is infamous for the elegant wines of Rioja. Because of Toro’s summer heat, the area has regulated that the maximum alcohol content is 15 percent ABV. Most wine regulations across the globe have minimum alcoholic requirements, not maximum allowable alcoholic contents, a clear concern for the wine’s potential boozy strength.
Considering the relatively recent elevation to DO status in 1987, one may not realize that vines have been planted here since the end of the 1st century B.C. by the Greeks. To mitigate the effects of the summer heat and to produce higher quality wines, the bodegas built their wineries underground to have effective temperature-controlled environments. Jumping ahead to the 19th century, the wines of Toro were exported to France because of the phylloxera crisis, which decimated most of France’s vineyards. Toro was immune to the vine louse because of its sandy soils, which ultimately helped the rest of Spain rebuild its viticultural sphere. To date, Toro is one of a few viticultural areas that has pre-phylloxera vineyards, which is pretty amazing considering Europe’s wine trade was crushed during the diseased phylloxera era.
Toro’s classification is the same as Rioja, with barrel- and bottle-aging requirements. Crianza (aged two years with six months in barrel), Reserva (aged three years with one year in barrel) and Gran Reserva (aged five years with two years in barrel) regulations still apply. The beauty of Spain’s aging regulations is that consumers can purchase relatively aged wines at a bargain price, all things considered. Many producers exceed the requirements with Gran Reserva’s aged over 10 years.
Toro can appeal to lovers of big, bold wines, both old and new world styles. While the fruit profile is slightly darker than the wines of Rioja, they are sure to please most with their ripe fruit and oaky personality.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.